Friday, April 29, 2011

Fast Five
Mujeres, Meatheads & Metal Unite: Wiggle, Flex, Crash!

Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto and Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs in "Fast Five". 
Universal Pictures

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Friday, April 29, 2011

Propulsive, kinetic, funny and quicker than a premature ejaculation, "Fast Five" delivers: it's fast, frenetic and one heck of a wall-slamming action experience.  Justin Lin returns to direct the best and most vivacious of the "Fast And Furious" franchise, which has quickly become the quintessential wiggle-flex-metal movie among teenage boys and short-attention-spanned denizens.

Picking up right where "Fast And Furious" left off, a breathtaking stunt propels us into a plot-less movie.  Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) has slipped out of his F.B.I. agent persona and is back on Dominic Toretto's team.  Dominic (Vin Diesel) is back in business, sprung from having to serve a long-jail sentence.  Old friends get reacquainted in beautiful Rio De Janeiro, the domain of one Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a powerful and ruthless rich man who has the local police eating out of his hands.  We surmise that much of his money is ill-gotten gains, and Dominic and company plan to do something about it.

Standing in their way is Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a towering hulk of law enforcement.  He's a gigantic general more than he is a Federal agent, and if he played major league baseball he'd be an instant suspect for steroid abuse.  Hobbs has a team who is trying to capture the fugitives Toretto and co. and bring them to justice. 

These two worlds -- these two movies -- will collide.

There's more than enough car crashes, stunts and fights to entertain and "Fast Five" knows when to slow down and smell the burning tire rubber.  Written by Chris Morgan once again, the dialogue is snappy even if the stories aren't.  The point of "Fast Five" isn't to be coherent as much as it is to be credible to its title.  Even when this tense film becomes ridiculous it stays true to itself as a thrilling, visceral adventure.  "Fast Five" never tries to be more than it is but it pushes itself, challenging itself to be bigger, faster and better -- and it succeeds. 

"Fast Five" is 20 minutes longer than its immediate predecessor, and with its reintroduction of past characters the film stops in its tracks uneasily before reigniting itself forward.  With better positioning of the characters, Mr. Lin's film could have been as lean as one of the many aphrodisiac-type cars on display.

Paradoxically there's less bare skin from the ladies but more of the same sexist objectifications that plague "Fast Five".  You'd wish for less accessorizing of women, and you feel that the filmmakers, for all their endeavor and ardor at crafting a razor's-edged thriller, would somehow incorporate the fairer sex into this boys' toys game with a lot more aplomb, perhaps the way Michelle Rodriguez's Letty Ortiz character was utilized in earlier films.  This isn't a film you'd ever find Thelma and Louise wandering around in.

I'd like to imagine for a second that Kathryn Bigelow would direct this film, and I could only think that it would be even better, and much smarter than "Fast Five" is.  Ms. Bigelow is adept at directing male action stories and characters ("Near Dark", "Point Break", "Hurt Locker") and she'd make the film more interesting and complex.

Mr. Lin's film becomes a friskier, dynamic "Ocean's Eleven" (or Toretto's Eleven), more closely showcasing different personalities, complete with their hilarious one-liners, most of them uttered by Tyrese Gibson, who appeared in "Fast 2".  Mr. Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges provide most of the comedy routines, and have a lot of fun doing so.  Mr. Diesel, alternating between charismatic and carnage maker, warms more on this go around but remains a sturdy presence as Dominic.  His mere appearance constitutes a flexing of muscle, whilst Mr. Johnson's pulsating, percolating menace courses through Hobbs, a man eager if not horny to get his action rocks off.

A theme running throughout the "Fast" series is the fine line between cop and criminal.  Characters jump back and forth across the line.  Cops bored with the procedural and mundane unleash their inner action child and live a little.  You sense that many of the characters pride themselves in this cathartic release and the handiwork of destruction they've created along the way.  Mr. Morgan shrewdly intertwines emotional elements from earlier "Fast" movies and places them well within the scope of the action, as if to give some of these meatheads a feminine pulse.

As in movies in general, watching the stunts in "Fast Five" is literally like watching magic tricks.  The hand is quicker than the eye and there's plenty of sleight of hand, though the digital effects are hidden well.  Mr. Lin steps on the throttle and pulls out all the stops.  The director has a treasure trove of awe-inspiring, stunts, tricks and showy scenes -- and he could have saved some of them for the inevitable sixth installment. 

Even with its flaws and cartoonish ways "Fast Five", never trying to contend for year's best film honors, is "still a buster" -- but the good, highly enjoyable kind.

Tip: Be sure to stay until after the end credits.  I didn't but have been told it is well worth it.

*I saw the film again recently: it is definitely worth staying for the closing credits.

With: Jordana Brewster, Gal Godot, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Tego Calderon, Elsa Pataky, Don Omar, Michael Irby.

"Fast Five" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language.  The film's running time is two hours and ten minutes.  The film has some occasional Portuguese and Spanish, with those Tony Scott "Man On Fire" subtitles that zip, zag and float.

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