I'm an unapologetic fan of the Fast and Furious franchise. Justin Lin has revitalized a franchise once thought to be near death, and by restructuring the timeline (which currently sits at 1, 2, 4, 5, 3) writer Chris Morgan has turned what was once simply a remake of Point Break - set in the world of street racing instead of surfing - into one of the most entertaining action franchises currently in Hollywood. The newest addition, Fast Five, reunites all the major players of the series and continues its tradition of providing audiences with big, dumb, overcharged fun drenched in testosterone.
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson
The film picks up where Fast and Furious left off: Dominic Toretto (Diesel) has been sentenced to 25 years without parole, and it's up to former FBI agent Brian O'Connor (Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Brewster) to bust Dom out. After a ludicrous bus crash sequence, our lovable group of antiheroes flees to Rio de Janeiro, where they can catch their breath and lay low for a while. (The audience never forgets they're in Rio, because there are no less than four excessive sweeping helicopter shots of the giant Jesus statue overlooking the city.) But since the audience doesn't want to see a movie about people sitting around and waiting for the heat to blow over, Brian and Mia sign up for a job almost instantly after arriving. Their mission: boost a series of cars from a moving train. This sets up one of the best action sequences in a movie full of them - I won't go into the details, but it's a great sequence, well paced and executed with style by Justin Lin, who I really feel is coming into his own as a director.
The worst part about this new gig is the boosted cars belonged to Reyes, the resident villain who practically owns all of Rio (including their entire police force). He's none too pleased to be put out; he's searching for something that's in one of those cars. So it's up to Dom, Mia, and Brian to find out what it is and use it to take Reyes for all he's worth. And good news for fans of this series: there are a ton of familiar faces, including Tyrese and Ludacris from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Vince from the original, Han from Tokyo Drift, and many more. But that's not all: this franchise gets a boost of energy from Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs, a special agent tasked with tracking the Toretto crew down. I imagine Chris Morgan relished writing this character, a seemingly no-nonsense guy who ironically spouts nothing but nonsensical one-liners. A sample: a lackey tells Hobbs he has good news and bad news, to which Hobbs replies, "You know I like my dessert first." Johnson is particularly well matched with this material, considering his professional wrestling background; Hobbs is basically a pro wrestler, complete with two inch staredowns with other sweaty men.
There is a much-touted fight scene between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson that was worth the price of admission if you're a fan of either of those guys. Unlike Stallone in The Expendables, Lin knows how to make a star-studded face-off engaging and bone-jarringly effective. (Sorry Sly. You're my boy, but that movie was disappointing.) Like its predecessor, Fast Five also sets up for potential sequels, and Johnson has expressed interest in being a major player in The Fas6 and the F6rious or whatever they end up calling it. By the way, make sure to stick around for the post-credits sequence in Fast Five - fans of the series will definitely walk away intrigued.
I alluded earlier to Justin Lin's impressive abilities behind the camera, and now I'll go a step further: I think Michael Bay finally has some true competition in this genre. Bay has always been a master of expertly staged set pieces, but the extended vault heist sequence at the end of Fast Five is as equally destructive, ridiculous, and frenetic as anything I've seen in a Bay film. And after Lin dropped briefly into the TV world and directed Community's "Modern Warfare" paintball episode, it's even clearer to me the man has a deep understanding of all things action and can successfully walk the line between parody and legitimacy. None of the Fast and Furious movies should be taken seriously, but that's the fun of them - the actors all play it straight while the audience sits back and laughs at the audacity and preposterousness of their scenarios.
The acting here is terrible, and the plot is the kind of stock story that fans of action films have come to expect, but none of that matters when the movie is this well-executed. I caught some flack recently for not liking Scre4m: my detractors were using the tried-and-true "what were you expecting? You know what you're getting into with a movie like that" argument. While that may be true with some of the series-specific gags and such, I felt like that movie should work as either a comedy or a horror film (or both), and I didn't think it succeeded on any level. In the case of Fast Five, some may use the same "what were you expecting?" argument when it comes to the characters, dialogue, story, etc. But the best part of Fast Five is this: it works as an action movie. It's well paced, and there are some truly thrilling sequences, chases, shootouts, and heists. Even if you hate the characters and think the story is idiotic, you can't deny that this is a worthy action film.
The floodgates of Summer 2011 have officially opened, and if the rest of this summer's lineup has the same spirit as Fast Five, this will be a good year. This is a movie that features car surfing, Vin Diesel using his bulging forearms to block a hit from a metal pipe, and a finale chase scene that rivals The Blues Brothers. Go ahead and mark me down for Fas6 and F6rious - if it's more of the same, I'm totally fine with that. Until next time...