Friday, April 29, 2011

Fast Five

Review by Pete Roche

Okay, here’s a rundown of the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise for those who’ve either lost track or (like this writer) never paid much attention to the muscle car movies in the first place.

The first, fourth, and now fifth FAST movies follow ex-con mechanic Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his hot-rodding hoodlums—including his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and FBI agent-turned-fugitive Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker)—on various high-speed heists.  In this latest installment, they’re pursued by a Diplomatic Security Service heavyweight played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—who recently starred in FASTER, which has no connection with this series.  The second movie centers on O’Connor and new partner Rome (Tyrese) as they go undercover in So Cal for the FBI.  The third chapter—TOKYO DRIFT—features entirely new leads and follows the other four pictures in chronology.  So if you’re playing catch-up before seeing FAST FIVE, feel free to skip that one. 

Confused? 

Don’t sweat it.  Just fasten your seat belt and join Dom, Mia, and Brian as they venture to Rio de Janiero to deprive a wealthy con-artist of a vault containing millions of dollars.  They plan to use the laundered loot to nest-egg their new lives—but none of them will survive the swindle if their resourceful target, Reyes, has anything to say about it.  Engines roar, rubber burns, and tempers flare after Dom’s gang interferes with a shipment of DEA-seized sports cars—one of which conceals a microchip incriminating the Brazilian villain. 

Be ready for serious gear-shifting in sleek, adrenaline-charged autos driven by burly men whose names are synonymous with gasoline and granite.  Diesel and “Rock” engage in all-out fisticuffs as Walker, Brewster, and friends spike speedometers in the name of juiced-up justice.  The circumference of Johnson’s well-oiled biceps is probably greater than the waistline of his petite partner (Elsa Pataky); the former footballer’s swollen arms won’t even rest at his sides. 

“Whatever it takes,” Johnson says of nabbing his quarry.  “Not a phone call more, not a bullet less.” 

Rapper-actors Ludacris and Tyrese return to swap insults and crack safes.  Puerto Rican singers Tego Calderon and Don Omar make for another amusing odd couple, bombing bathrooms and criticizing each other’s cooking.  Joaquim de Almeida (DESPERADO, MASK OF ZORRO) is sensational as suave but sadistic Reyes.

Returning director Justice Lin built this vehicle for fun, not philosophy (despite Walker’s daddy issues). So it’s a somewhat vacuous affair—but has multi-viscosity spirit.  It’s essentially a caper film, a la OCEANS ELEVEN, sandwiched between over-the-top stunt sequences and gunfights.  The prison bus breakout and train chase early on are breathless, cleverly-staged bits—but the climactic getaway through Rio’s busy streets sets a new standard in motor vehicle mayhem.  More cars couldn’t have been wrecked had a comet plunged into a downtown parking garage.  Lin apparently had no qualms lubing another 120 minutes of celluloid for high-horsepower racing action and extensive property damage. FIVE is this summer’s pink slip for loud, piston-pounding excitement (sans superheroes).  3 out of 4 stars


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