There’s not a brain at work in any of Fast Five’s two and a half hours, but it goes through them with such reckless abandon that I simply couldn’t tear myself away. As was the case with the first four films, it’s a high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal thrill ride in which story plays second fiddle to stunts, almost all of them involving cars. I would, of course, prefer a film in which an effort was made with plot and character development. At the same time, I can’t deny the considerable craft that went into the action sequences; watching the cars as they flipped, crashed, flew, and instantly turned tight corners was, in its own adrenaline-pumping way, like watching a well-choreographed ballet recital. It was hypnotic. I’m usually immune to mind-numbing action, but for the first time in ages, I put my rational brain on autopilot and just enjoyed the film for what it was.
It begins with former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) leading an assault on the prison transport bus carrying Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). They free him by using their cars to flip the bus over. I don’t mean that it turns on its side and drags along the pavement for a few hundred feet; it actually does slow-motion summersaults in mid air before crashing upside down in spectacular fashion. No one would have been able to survive this, but never mind. Brian and Dom – along with Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), also Brian’s girlfriend – flee to Rio de Janeiro. After taking part in an impossible but spectacular car heist from the side of a moving train, they cross paths with a corrupt Brazilian businessman named Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who has made millions in illicit business activities. They decide to take on the proverbial Last Job and steal all of Reyes’ money.
A robbery of this magnitude requires a specialized team. Here enters incidental characters played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderón, and Don Omar, who each have an area of expertise. Many of them are little more than comedy relief; Calderón and Omar in particular bicker as if they were a married couple (and in two languages, no less). Bridges and Gibson have a few amusing scenes together, and they can always be counted on for a wiseass remark. There’s also some sexual tension between Kang and Gadot, in large part because of the stark contrast between the latter’s flagrant feminine assets and the former’s complete lack of sex appeal. Perhaps there’s also something darkly humorous about the fate of Kang’s character in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – which, chronologically, takes place after the events of this film. But why am I even suggesting that anyone will much care about chronology?
Hot on Dom and Brian’s trail is DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a deadly serious, hulking gorilla of a man who’s hilariously Valjean-esque in his determination. He’s partnered with a local cop named Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), who was selected because of her resolve and her honesty, which are apparently rare qualities in Brazilian law enforcement. I’ll have to take their word for it; I’ve never been to Brazil. She has something in common with Dom: They’ve both lost someone near and dear to them. Because of this, he believes she’s capable of understanding his motives. I bring this up because of an appropriate but highly unlikely alliance made in the latter half of the film; only in movies like this do such things happen. Maybe that’s why we love them so much.
There isn’t much in this movie in the way of illegal street racing, but there is a breathtaking car chase near the end involving Dom, Brian, and Reyes’ money vault, which they have tethered to their cars. Because they constantly make hairpin turns, the vaults repeatedly swings around loosely like a pendulum, leaving glorious destruction in its wake. And just wait until you see the pileup of police cars on the Rio-Niterói Bridge – which, now that I think of it, seemed miraculously deserted. Strange, given a city notorious for its traffic congestion. Oh, but there I go again, using my brain. I have to keep reminding myself that action movies aren’t supposed to play by the rules.
Some action movies are so thoroughly cheerless and unexciting that they seem to exist primarily to be made fun of. What’s praiseworthy about Fast Five is that the actors and filmmakers were smart enough to not take the material seriously. It’s a film to surrender yourself to; either you suspend disbelief, or you go home. There really isn’t anything I can say about the story or the performances since that really isn’t what the film is about. It’s about the spectacle of the whole thing. All we’re meant to focus on is the stunt work and the special effects, and believe you me, they were both quite impressive. And now that I’ve taken a mental break, I think it’s about time I get back into the real world. All good things must come to an end, sadly.
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