Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fast Five (2011)

A big, loud, blast of a film, this series-best entry in the Fast and Furious franchise has the ex-cop Brian O'Conner and the street-race guru Dom Toretto seeking safety from the law (and a small fortune) in Rio de Janeiro. The opening is a hilarious, wordless escape scene showing O'Conner and his girl (and Dom's sis) Mia using their small speedsters to topple a prison bus; if this is too ridiculous and/or unsatisfying for you, you know to leave the theater by the time the words FAST FIVE appear on the screen. From there, the film begins on its loose, vaguely cliched narrative drive to get every significant cast member from the franchise down in Rio, including Tyrese and Ludacris from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Matt Schulze from the original, Dom's love interest from Fast and Furious and, most graciously, Sung Kang as Han from Tokyo Drift (in which he freaking dies halfway through, which doesn't keep him from appearing in the two following sequels). This is a huge advantage of this sequel, which both responds to the 4 previous entries that set it up as well as doing something with the series that makes this entry not only stand out, but surpass all its predecessors (I cannot state this enough, for this marks maybe the only franchise where the 5th installment is the best).

Unlike Fast & Furious, which had a good amount of long, torturous drama in between the racing scenes, this one keeps them coming (sigh) fast & The bonkers set pieces in the trailers are only the tip of the iceberg; one of my favorite scenes, an impromptu drag race outside of a police station, is not even hinted at in the promotional materials. While the dialogue scenes are not as flat and turgid as the previous installment, they are still a little bit corny, saved by the adeptness and chemistry of the cast (save for Paul Walker, who has yet to discover how to consistently bring that actor from Running Scared out to play), particularly Vin Diesel. This series became a HUGE moneymaker only after Diesel reentered the franchise, and its obvious why; his gravely voice and his lumbering physique, along with his expressive, emotive eyes make him a perfect protagonist for this manly, steel-and-chrome-fueled series. Thankfully, unlike Fast & Furious, he is not forced to run the show alone here, and has some great supporting faces to keep things interesting. Tyrese and Luda make a great comic duo, Sung Kang is as suave and savvy as ever, and Joaquim de Almeida provides a sleazy, detestable villain.

But let's not kid ourselves; the supporting cast member that really adds the icing on this souped-up, nitrous-powered cake is The Rock a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. the reason this movie just had the best opening day in April of all time. Goateed, tatted up, and even more bulky than he is usually, The Rock's dogged F.B.I. agent pursuing Dom and O'Conner is so tough, so devoted, and so surprisingly funny that not only does he immediately make the film more tense and interesting when he is on screen, but he has singlehandedly bought this franchise another entry or two after this one. Two scenes with him and Diesel, one a hand-to-hand fight scene, the other a rabble-rousing speech, are indicative of everything this old-school action series is capable of, and received raucous applause from the audience I saw it with. His presence in the film makes this not only the best Fast and the Furious film, but also probably the best flick the Rock has been in, period (ok, maybe I still prefer Southland Tales, but don't tell anyone).

Highly Recommended for action junkies and fans of Vin Diesel and The Rock. Wow it feels good to say that about a new movie. This one is truly impressive; from the first trailers, I have been continually wowed by how much higher they've raised the stakes for this franchise, and the film managed to exceed any expectations I had (my girlfriend's as well).

P.S. I may have liked the film even more had they retained Diesel's killer line from the trailer: "Chances are, sooner or later, we're gonna end up behind bars, or buried in a ditch somewhere...but not today."

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