You know what a Fast and Furious movie is by this point. They’re loud, obnoxious, somewhat-heartless, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, rarely intentionally hilarious, incredibly aggressive action movies. You know that’s what you’re getting when you buy your ticket and the only thing that’s changed about the series is that it’s become less about racing and more about squeezing in familiar faces to pull off some high-octane crime. Fast Five ditches the racing almost entirely and replaces it with a heist film that recalls Ocean’s Eleven but with brawn instead of brains.
World’s Worst Law Enforcement Agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) have busted Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of prison by staging a gigantic bus crash that killed no one and only freed Dom. Some films spend their entire runtime figuring out how to free a prisoner from captivity. I like to imagine that Brian and Mia wrote down their plan to free Dom and this is what it looked like
Step 1 – Force prison bus into gigantic crash using fancy driving.
Step 2 – Free Dom.
Step 3 – :)
The three make their way to Rio where they join up with former accomplice Vince (Matt Schulze) for a spectacular train heist. Most of Justin Lin’s action scenes in Fast and Furious felt inert, but this time around he’s really upped his game and pulls off some impressive set pieces. The train heist goes a little south as Zizi (Michael Irby), the guy who hired Vince, is along on the job and tries to kill Dom and the gang, but ends up murdering some hapless DEA agents instead. Dom, Mia, and Brian get free with a GT40 that contains a microchip. The chip contains the locations of the cash houses of nefarious businessman and Zizi’s boss, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). The trio decide to rob Reyes and bring in a cast of supporting characters from the previous films to pull off the heist. However, this not only puts the gang in the crosshairs of Reyes and his infinite supply of goons, but Dom, Vince, and Mia are pegged with the murder rap for the DEA agents. The U.S. government sends in Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), an agent hellbent on bringing the three fugitives to justice. Hobbs is like Tommy Lee Jones’ character from The Fugitive if someone said “Yeah, but let’s bulk him up and strip away the charm and intelligence.”
But that’s really Fast Five in a nutshell: bulk it up and strip away the charm and intelligence. The film desperately wants to recall Ocean’s Eleven, right down to having two members of the heist constantly bickering with each other like Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. But while the film pretends like it’s going to set up a fast-paced, clever heist, it eventually comes to the stupid solution you knew it was going to reach because this is a Fast and Furious movie and clever plotting is for sissies.
And if bringing in a sinister bad guy and relentless manhunter sounds like a lot of plot threads for a Fast and Furious movie, it is. The movie runs over two hours long but just because it’s bigger, that doesn’t mean it’s stronger. There are plenty of places where the movie could trim the fat, but for the filmmakers, bigger equals better. However, fans of the franchise will most likely be overjoyed with having more—more chases, more fistfights, more babes, and more stuff blowing up real good. Fast Five is the franchise on steroids and while folks like me shudder at that thought, fans are probably giddy at that prospect.
For all my problems with the franchise, Fast Five is probably my favorite so far (note: I haven’t seen Tokyo Drift). It drops almost all pretense, wisely gives Paul Walker’s boring Brian O’Connor as little screen time as possible, and has some of the best action sequences in the franchise to date. But there are times when Fast Five feels like it has to mean something as if we’re going to care about characters who pretend to be human but can survive massive car wrecks and falling hundreds of feet without so much as a scratch. I don’t care that Dom is mourning the loss of a loved one and has found a connection with a local Rio cop (Elsa Pataky). I don’t believe Dom when he tries to talk about “family” with his fellow criminals. You can’t have the camera spend an eternity glaring at the asses of hot young women and then make me believe that Fast Five is about anything more than jamming sex and violence into your lizard brain. If you want to do that, fine. Just don’t lie to me about it.
There are so many problems I have with the Fast and Furious franchise but at this point I’ve simply ceased to care. Fast Five is at its best when it shares that indifference and instead focuses on making the best action scene with the slickest production value possible. The characters are simple, the action is loud, and the bravado is so thick you’ll choke on it. Were you expecting something else?