There's a scene midway through
Fast Five where Dom Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, and Brian O'Conner, played by Paul Walker, need a fast car and they need one now, so they go to the side of town where the street racers hang out and challenge a guy to a drag. Dom and Brian win -- but director Justin Lin doesn't even bother to show us the race. Five films into the Fast and the Furious series, the producers apparently remember that the first movie had something to do with street racing, but ten years later that's not the point anymore. Fast Five isn't about racing, but about guys chasing one another, folks shooting guns left and right, and action scenes that are cut so fast and frantic it doesn't even matter who is beating up who anymore. From the start, this has been a string of movies made for adrenaline junkies, but Fast Five doesn't offer much of a buzz -- it's just a maintenance dose that will keep you from crashing out without offering much thrill. Fast Five picks up literally where 2009's Fast and Furious left off -- Dom has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom's sister and Brian's sweetheart, lead a daring raid to free him from the bus taking him to lockup. The three eventually meet up in Rio de Janeiro, through they steer clear of the glamorous side of the city known to tourists and stay in a slum neighborhood with their old friend Vince (Matt Schulze). Vince adds Dom, Brian and Mia to his crew for an ambitious robbery to steal three high-end sports cars from a moving train, but it turns out the cars are hotter than they expected -- one of them belongs to Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a powerful and ruthless drug dealer, and it contains a computer chip with incriminating information on his operation and where he stashes his money. The car was being impounded by the American DEA, and the theft attracts the attention of Reyes and his crew as well as a band of American agents led by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who isn't about to let three American fugitives get away. With few friends on either side of the law, Dom and Brian think it's time to get out of the game, especially when they learn Mia is pregnant, so they decide to stage a heist that will set them up for life, robbing Reyes of $110 million in cash. It's far too big a job for three people, so they assemble a crew of trusted friends (who also appeared in other movies in the F&F series) -- fast talking driver and con-man Roman (Tyrese Gibson), no-nonsense mechanic and safecracker Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), cool and unflappable Han (Sung Kang), argumentative mechanics Tego (Tego Calderon) and Rico (Don Omar) and sexy but stealthy Gisele (Gal Gadot). Of course, the crew is followed closely by Hobbs and his team, who has been joined by Elena (Elsa Pataky), a beautiful Rio police officer bent on revenge after Reyes's men killed her husband. And a plan to get all the cash moved to a central location adds an unexpected challenge -- the money is moved to Rio's largest police station, where the cops are on the drug lord's payroll. An awful lot happens in Fast Five, but for all the plot twists that spin around the "one last heist" framework, none of them feel as important as simply keeping the characters on the run, either on wheels or on foot, and dodging fists and/or bullets. Most of the action scenes in Fast Five repeatedly defy the laws of physics or logic, and the crew on Mythbusters could probably spend an entire season testing the dozens of improbable situations thrown at these street racers turned master criminals (and who knew that driving fast could teach you so much?). By the time these folks are stealing cars from a moving train, you've either chosen to suspend all disbelief and strap in for the ride or been reduced to grumbling to yourself for the next two hours, and the former would be a whole lot easier if screenwriter Chris Morgan had given these characters better dialogue and motivation (not to mention a more streamlined narrative) and director Justin Lin knew how to draw better performances from his cast. Vin Diesel still has only one trick in his dramatic arsenal, and he sure hasn't gotten any better at playing it, while Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster simply look and act too clean cut and well meaning to fit in with this motley crew of low-rent super-criminals. Chris Bridges and Tyrese Gibson play well off one another as friendly rivals and Gal Gadot is excellent at looking beautiful and mysterious, but their roles are strictly one-dimensional and for all their obvious effort they can only do so much. Easily the best performance comes from Dwayne Johnson, who seems to be making a career out of rising above second-rate material; he kicks serious butt in the action scenes, takes no jive as the toughest cop on Earth, and he allows a flash of wit to remind us to smell what the Rock is cooking. Someone really needs to cast Johnson in the lead of a good movie for a change. And while director Lin has stuffed ten pounds of visual flash into a five pound bag (even the subtitles are meant to look cool as they zip on and off screen), all the sweeping helicopter shots and GCI-enhanced chase sequences can't obscure the fact this story takes a long time to get where it's going and most of the action sequences could be trimmed in half without blunting their impact. And if you stick around for the final credits, you'll be treated to a wildly unsubtle setup for the sixth movie in the Fast and Furious series. Despite its title, this series seems to be taking its own sweet time to finally cross the finish line, and at this rate it won't be a moment too soon.
All Movie Guide - Mark Deming