FAST FIVE Is Good for Cheap Thrills and Not Much Else
Movie Review by John Harvey
When I told people that I was going to review the fifth installment in the THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, FAST FIVE, a friend emailed me a video clip from The Onion website titled “Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of FAST FIVE.’”
If you’re not in the mood to read this review, then watch that 2.5 minute clip (link at the bottom of this review). Though satirical, it’s also 100% spot-on regarding the level of film craft in FAST FIVE.
Starting in 2001, this franchise never aspired to be anything more than eye-candy for teenage boys (hence the PG-13 rating). It is utterly without art, but perfectly crafted for its target demographic. Every installment (including FAST FIVE) focuses almost entirely on car chases, over-the-top fights, and girls in tight clothes. All this tenuously held together by the most fragile gossamer wisps of something that only resembles storytelling if you drink half a bottle of whiskey and squint really hard.
Directed by Justin Lin, FAST FIVE kicks off with former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) rescuing Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) from a prison bus in a three-car, one-bus action sequence that is entirely devoid of common sense and respect for basic physics, and also sets the tone for all of the action that will follow. They split up and meet in Rio de Janeiro, where they quickly take a job stealing three DEA-confiscated cars from a moving train. Predictably, the job goes horribly wrong, DEA agents die, and our heroes find themselves on the #$%& list of drug dealer and corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). How could this possibly get worse? Well, the DEA is none too happy about their dead agents, so they send hulking DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of uber spec-ops soldiers to apprehend Dom and O’Connor.
So, the most logical and sensible thing for Dom and O’Connor to do is get the hell out of Brazil while the getting is good. Oh wait, this is FAST FIVE. Hence, what they actually do is invite all of their friends from the previous four films to Rio to carry out a wildly elaborate heist and steal $100 million of Reyes’s drug money from a massive vault housed in a police station. Wackiness ensues …
I’ll admit that some of the chase and fight scenes had fun elements. And it was a kick watching Diesel and Johnson face off as a bald immovable force versus a bald unstoppable object. Also, to be perfectly honest … I’ve got nothing against hot women in tight clothes. But the plot holes in this film are large enough to accommodate a fleet of 1970 Dodge Chargers. Even worse, whenever our heroes are in “trouble,” the filmmaker resorts to cheap tricks and shell games to accomplish miraculous escapes that are really just lazy cheats. And the acting? Cardboard and undercooked all around. Though, I will point out that you can hand Dwayne Johnson the most corny, clunky line of dialogue and he’ll at least make its delivery entertaining. But these are predictable flaws that I knew would be present just by watching FAST FIVE‘s film trailer.
Ultimately, the thing that made this film essentially unpleasant for me was its complete lack of morality. FAST FIVE is set in a video-game world where both the good guys and the bad guys fire automatic weapons in densely packed neighborhoods, drive cars through throngs of pedestrians, and wipe out dozens of everyday drivers in the course of wild car chases. You ultimately realize that EVERYONE in this film is self-centered to the core and a slave to naked greed and brute force. Despite the occasional ham-handed soliloquy by Dom about family and freedom, the truth about this film is that it contains no actual heroes or “good guys.”
Yeah, I get it. It’s a visceral action flick and not a David Mamet drama. But I have the same problem with FAST FIVE as I do with several horror franchises where violence is framed as the only protagonist worth rooting for. It’s shoddy, lazy, and distasteful film craft.
All that said, once you get to the end of FAST FIVE, the average audience member will assume that this is Dom and O’Connor’s last caper and we will never be bothered again by another effortlessly vapid attempt at filmmaking (at least in this series).
Depressingly, there’s a post-credits scene that indicates that this franchise is far from dead. For me, this was the unhappiest of endings.
Directed By: Justin Lin
Written By: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, and Dwayne Johnson
Run Time: 130 minutes
The Onion’s “Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of ‘Fast Five:” http://www.theonion.com/video/today-now-interviews-the-5yearold-screenwriter-of,20188/
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© Copyright 2011 by John D. Harvey