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Friday, April 29, 2011

5 Fast 5 Furious 5 Stars (Minus 1)

Fast Five = 4 out of 5
Hobbs:  Alright, listen up. The men we're after are professional runners. We find them; we take them as a team; and we bring them back. And above all else, we never ever let them get into cars.
Vroom!  So this isn’t supposed to happen.  The fifth installment of a movie series is not supposed to be the best one yet, with actual anticipation building up for another.  That is not what should happen, but dammit, Fast Five delivers just that.  Somehow, this film series decided to go all out and deliver a fantastic ride, built for speed, action, and some slick style.  Regardless of previous opinions about this franchise, Fast Five hits its marks very well, evolving the story of the franchise, while bringing in many familiar faces from the previous films.  I can only praise the film for how it stacks up with its previous incarnations as well as action flicks in general, and this is a film that does great service to the genre.  While there are some bumps in the road, this movie is well made and highly entertaining.  And you get to see a faceoff between Vin Diesel and The Rock!

With a brief setup, this film picks up exactly where Fast & Furious left off.  Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on a prison bus to jail, only to be broken out by former FBI Agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), through the use of their most special talent, driving skills.  Now, Dom, Brian, and Mia are all wanted criminals, which lead to them down to Rio for refuge.  


While seeking shelter with a friend from the past, Vince (Matt Schultze, from the first film), a job opportunity comes up, leading to an exciting train robbery sequence.  Unfortunately, a betrayal goes down and some DEA Agents are killed, which is pinned on Dom and Brian.  Enter The Rock.  Dwayne Johnson now enters the scene as Luke Hobbs, a hard-nosed Federal Agent who never misses a target.  He enters Rio with his strike team, in an effort to launch an all-out assault to capture his new targets.


Dom and Brian have larger things in mind, as the corrupt business man, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who is responsible for the initial betrayal, is also seeking to have them killed.  Of course, the only logical plan is to get to Reyes first; where it hurts, his money.  Dom and Brian form a plan to steal over $100 million from Reyes and start new lives, but it will require the talents of others as well.  This leads to bringing many past players back together, including Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges),  Han (Sung Kang), and Gisele (Gal Gadot).  With everyone seemingly hunting for everyone else, there will of course be lots of sweet cars and fast & furious racing occurring in order to get things done right.
[Dom and Brian drive into a car show/party]
Dom:  Home sweet home.

Despite the films I tend to enjoy and recognizing what makes a film work, I have (for some reason) always had a soft spot for the Fast and Furious franchise (which I have covered Here).  The films largely exist to show off really sweet rides and the racing/party scene that comes with it.  It pulls together enough of a plot to get by and fills the frame with attractive enough actors so the film can be watchable, but has always reveled in being silly flicks for the sake of escapism, which also happen to feature a lot of cool cars and racing action.  I do not love these movies, but I find them entertaining (some more than others), and I have continued to feel engaged with what those involved have tried to do with each successive feature.  There are a number of things that crop up, which continue the trend of flaws that hamper these films, but there are also a lot of new elements that really freshen up the series.


The biggest thing to take note of (besides the biceps on most of the cast, Rock especially), is the shift in gears (sorry) from being a film about street racing to being a heist film.  Sure, you still have some signature scenes involving the racing element, but the plot, this time around, is definitely Diesel’s 11.  I have previously praised the third film, Tokyo Drift, as being the best in the series because it used Karate Kid as its model for the story.  That is a very entertaining story structure, but if there is one thing I like more than that, it’s the classic structure of a heist film.  Fast Five has all of the elements it needs:  an entertaining team-up, the “one last job” approach, a common enemy, the planning montage, and the climatic heist attempt in action.  As always, story and dialogue has never been a strong part of this series, but writer Chris Morgan (who penned the previous two and has been tapped for the 6th) has branched out into a solid direction that at least supplies the outline for one exciting movie.


But enough about the plot, there are all these other elements that make this film work so well.  Starting with the direction, Justin Lin (who has directed the previous two, but should still be credited for his breakout flick Better Luck Tomorrow, as well) has really stepped up his game this time around, showing the chops of a fantastic action director.  All of the action scenes, which there are many of, have been incredibly well assembled.  Never cutting too much or setting up shots that feel too close for comfort, the vision that Lin and his crew had in mind for the action that occurs is fantastically realized.  Yes, a lot of it goes over the top and tests the limits of reality, but this is a straight up action movie, and the movie does a great job at delivering well assembled scenes, which combine practical and computer effects.  Further adding to that, the film makes sure to mix up the action.  The car chases all have their own feel (the climatic chase rivaling Bad Boys 2 in its ridiculous amount of destruction); there is an exciting favela rooftop chase; and then you have the all out brawl between Diesel and Rock.  In the previous film, the action peaked in its opening scene, with an incredibly lame final chase.  Here, things only escalate to greater and greater moments.  Justice to the action genre is easily done for this film.


As far as the actors go, even with various pit stops along the way (sorry, again), this has always been the breakout franchise for Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.  While Walker continues to try and get by on his surfer boy charm (although he has some cool action moments), Diesel is who people really love to see and I enjoyed his work here.  In the last film, he felt relegated to spouting out one-liners the whole time.  While character development is not the greatest aspect for these films, this time Diesel gets to be the most interesting person in this movie, which should be credited to how solid Diesel is as Dom.  The returning faces are all a lot of fun as well.  Tyrese was the best thing about 2 Fast 2 Furious, so his antics do him well for the flick.  The character Han (who continues to be the element that places these films in a strange timeline limbo) is also a lot of fun and mostly likely becoming the sleeper MVP of the series.  Then you have The Rock debuting in this film.  It is a good thing he wanted to be involved, because he is forced to deliver some really bad lines, but has the kind of charisma and swagger where he can just sell it every time out.  Also, I have to think that anytime the man isn’t on camera he must be working out.  Every Rock scene features his giant arms in a way where it seems like the screen practically can’t handle it, let alone the idea of sharing screentime with Diesel.


Gripes are minimal and already reflected on earlier.  This is not a film, let alone a series, about strong plotting and characters.  It is also the longest of the series, clocking in at over two hours, which was a bit of a stretch.  Still, whether I was legitimately enjoying the action and excitement racing by me throughout, or reveling in just how ridiculous some of these situations becomes, I was never underwhelmed by what was occurring on screen.  This film did not just match my expectations; it surpassed them in a great way.

Fast Five may not be the film a lot of people are heavily anticipating, given the jam packed summer that is gearing up to start in the coming weeks, but it should be climbing up some radars.  This film is just a blast of excitement.  Shameless in what is has to offer, but all the better for embracing how far it is willing to go.  Some of the earlier installments may fall into guilty pleasure territory for me, but I am proud to acknowledge just how (screw it) fast and furious this film is.  So shift into overdrive and speed on in to see this flick.
Roman Pearce:  This just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission: In-freaking-sanity.

Note:  I have to credit The Boston Globe with this great ARTICLE about how progressive there series actually is.

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