April 30, 2011

Review: 'Fast Five' – Faster and Even More Furious

"And above all else we don't ever, ever let them get into cars."

I can hardly believe the Fast & Furious franchise is ten years old and five films deep. Fast Five (aka Fast & Furious 5) is the latest entry in the car heist movie franchise's increasingly ridiculous series of films. In fact, the only thing more ridiculous than these films' plotlines and action is the increasingly inconsistent and confusing naming of each film and the revolving door cast of characters. Let's take a quick look back.

The Fast and the Furious—An okay, fun movie with a great title. The title is catchy with nice alliteration. The film that started it all is essentially a Point Break style cop and criminal heterosexual romance between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. It's popularity is surprising, but not baffling as the fourth film.

2 Fast 2 Furious—A ridiculous name for an even more terrible movie with a ludicrous/Ludacris use of the number two, 2F2F is the least typical of all the entries without most of the franchise's cinematic hallmarks. The first sequel shockingly sheds all the original cast and crew save for Walker. It's widely accepted that the first sequel is also the generally the worst, being very poorly received despite coming from Oscar-nominated director John Singleton.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift—The threequel is the biggest departure both in name and plot, backtracking to the original's title and adding its now somewhat mocked subtitle. A little long titled, the third film sheds the entire cast minus one surprise cameo near the end. This is probably the worst acted, most "so bad it's good" of the series. It's also the first by now franchise stalwarts director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan who returned to write and direct the next two. It's also probably the most purely fun in the series, injected new elements that would become synonymous in the rest of the series.

The foreign locale of Tokyo really brings more street racing seriousness to the franchise while going young with the cast. I'm still waiting for Bow Wow to show up in Fast & Furious 6. Tokyo Drift also reintroduces us to the character of Han Seoul-Oh from Lin's amazing indie debut Better Luck Tomorrow. Han is then quickly killed off despite appearing in the next two instalments, making them interquels taking place before this one. Han, played Sung Kang, is easily the franchise's best, most consistently enjoyable character.

Fast & Furious—The franchise's first true direct sequel is absolutely terrible. The title's simply a shorter hand version of the original's (sans definite articles), referencing the return of the original cast. This film should be fun, reuniting all the actors together, and tying up all the loose ends from the original film with Walker and Diesel's characters. The ridiculous storyline is baffling and strung together with some poorly constructed action with subpar CGI effects.

Fast Five (aka Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist in foreign terrorities)—The title is a little better, shorter, and to the point. This latest effort builds on all the previous ones. I absolutely love the fact that the producers included almost every single character from Fast & Furious franchise that was not killed off in previous films and a couple that were. The references and callbacks to past films are not subtle at all but more than amusing.

The inclusion of a brawny, beefed, bald, goateed up Dwayne Johnson (aka former WWE professional wrestler The Rock) as the ultra-serious, constantly dripping in sweat, DSS Agent Luke Hobbs was a stroke of brilliance. Evidently actor/producer Diesel was compelled to cast Johnson after a fan request on Facebook. Johnson balances the testosterone triangle now that Dom and Brian, who are for the first time on the same side of the law (the wrong side).

Johnson looks more like Vin Diesel in the film than the older Diesel does if that makes any sense. Johnson and Diesel recreate the homoerotic tension that originated in the original except amped up to eleven. Their muscly fight scene is brutally intense and feels like an action movie battle if Stallone and Schwarzeneggerr had squared off cinematically in their prime. I half-expected the two whip out a couple rulers and measure themselves right then and there.

The movie learns from the failures of past franchises and has a constant, forward momentum that defies  logic and reason. This is easily the best and most entertaining movie of the franchise because of the confidence of which the movie is propelled. None of the films are known for their dialogue, but somehow the stilted lines and bad acting fit together. Johnson knows exactly what kind of movie he's in and for the first time in the franchise, so does everyone else. The film's construction adequately hides most of its gaping flaws and preposterousness.

Fast Five is the culmination of the entire franchise. Looking back at its central character, Brian O'Conner's evolution, you see how needfully dull he is played by Walker. In #1, he is an undercover cop who is disgraced by the end for letting Dom go. In #2, he's on the run in Miami but redeems himself clearing his record by helping out the FBI. In #4, he somehow joins the FBI after having his criminal record wiped only to abandon law enforcement once and for all by again breaking out his heterosexual life partner, Terreto. In #5, he along with Dom are full fledged fugitives hiding out very poorly in Brazil and being hunted down by Hobbs.

Fast Five sheds all the dead weight from previous Fast & Furious films and under the tight direction of Lin, who very much proves his action direction chops and really propels an incredibly entertaining ride. The stilted dialogue, ridiculous one-liners, and one-note acting performances build together with some very explosive action scenes to make for fun-filled viewing. The ridiculous climax is thrilling and fun. The exotic locale of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil adds a needed flavour and excitement previous entries sorely lacked.

I had a blast with this film, laughing out loud many times and watching the thrilling action revealed on screen. Screenwriter Chris Morgan, not 5-years-old contrary to popular belief, subverts expectations mostly while still adhering to some classic action movie troupes. Summing up the franchise, it's obvious all the odd-numbered movies, #1, 3, and 5, are the relatively good, watchable ones. The use of practical action and staged spectacles was a visual treat.

If you liked any of the previous Fast & Furious films or anything about them for that matter, Fast Five will satisfy your inexplicable urges for fast cars, faster action, and balls out destruction. No one seemed to care about the countless bystanders that were surely killed in every chase scene. Fast Five is definitely both fast and furious. I was certainly never bored like I was in previous films.
"I live my life a quarter mile at a time."

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