Monday, May 2, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Fast Five

FAST FIVE-- 4 STARS

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After Mark Wahlberg struck a hit with remaking the car-heist classic, The Italian Job, in 2003, the filmmakers, cast, and fans alike have been clamoring for a sequel.  Several drafts of a script entitled The Brazilian Job have been bouncing around Hollywood and gathering dust instead of steam since 2004.  Go ahead and table any chance of that being made, because Paramount Pictures and director F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen, The Negotiator, and Friday) would have to top Universal Pictures and director Justin Lin's Fast Five.  Good luck.  They would have to rename and set the sequel on the Moon to beat the over-the-top Rio de Janeiro action of the latest chapter in the The Fast and the Furious series. 

Fast Five starts the 2011 summer movie season off early with a muffler-rattling bang, and does it a week before the traditional first-week-of-May leadoff big hitter slot opens with Marvel Studios' Thor.  Fast Five is the second consecutive movie in the series to reunite the original 2001 Big Three cast of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster.  It is being billed as an even bigger reunion than 2009's very successful Fast & Furious, which reignited the series after the 2006 spinoff, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, underperformed.  Fast Five is just that: a reunion of all of the great characters and elements of the previous films that pushes to make everything it can deliciously over-the-top (and not Sly Stallone Over the Top).

The movie picks up at precisely the moment Fast & Furious left off before the credits rolled.  Disgraced federal agent Brian O'Conner (Walker), girlfriend Mia Toretto (Brewster), and Spanish-arguing clown associates Tego and Rico (Puerto Rican rappers Tego Calderon and Don Omar) are speeding towards a prison transfer bus carrying Dominic Toretto, intent to break him out in a daring escape.  Gee, wonder if they pull it off?  Come on.  That cupcake job just gets the ball rolling!

Soon after, the group lands in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil trying to out run the wanted fugitive heat that follows them.  When old friend Vince (Matt Schulze from the 2001 original) propositions them on a train heist job for some much needed cash, things go bad when our modern-day-Robin-Hoods are falsely painted as responsible for killing federal agents.  That provokes the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service to move our trio to the top of the Most Wanted list and send in their extradition specialist, Agent Hobbs (imposing sweaty beast Dwayne Johnson, a newcomer to the series, who, believe it or not, bulked up 30 pounds for this part, as if he needed more) and his team.  At the same time, their double-crossed train heist pisses off the local Rio heavy, Reyes (the velvet-voiced and always reliable villian Joaquim de Alemeida from Clear and Present Danger, Desperado, and TV's 24). 

Hunted by both sides of the law, Brian, Mia, and Dom figure it's time to stop running and buy some real freedom through Reyes, by hitting him where it hurts every local crimelord: their wallet.  To pull of a $100 million heist like that, it's going to take help.  Brian and Dom call in every movie favor their casting director has by scoring a team of Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han Lue (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift, and Tego, Rico, and Gisele (Gal Gadot) from Fast & Furious.  From here, Fast Five successfully and wisely raises the stakes, risks, scope, story, and heist beyond the series' underground street-racing roots.  Quarter-mile showdowns have graduated to cross-town and cross-country chases that 2009's return started.

Sure, Fast Five has 800 gazillion elements of driving (see Lesson #1 below), city traffic (for being a city of over 11.5 million people on cliffs beside an ocean, there's naturally excellent wide-open traffic most of the time in Rio), gunplay (typical movie rules of bad guys that always miss and good guys that must go to the firing range every week), fighting (The Rock vs. Vin Diesel WWE match), and general physics (steel cable strength, the break point of concrete and steel, the inertia and gravity of falling and flying objects, etc.) that are completely preposterous.  Cars on nitrous still get filmed as if they just hit the hyperdrive lever on the Millennium Falcon, but, so what.  We love it and we smile.  No one goes heist movies, car chase movies, or James Bond movies for plausibility and Academy Award-worthy acting.  It is no different with The Fast and the Furious franchise (which this film teases to possibly continue with a can't-miss shocker of a post-credits scenes that you better stay for).

There's a difference sometimes between a "film" and a "movie."  A film, more than not, is a piece of calculated and labored art, while a movie is a hunk of chewy and glossy entertainment.  This is a "summer movie," through and through, where you have to turn your brain off and let yourself be entertained.  You're going to do the same next week for Thor and repeat that welcome sensory overload nearly every weekend from May to August, all summer, from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to Transformers: The Dark of the Moon to Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows Part 2 and more.

By that rational of welcome sensory overload, Fast Five more than delivers its trademark cars, muscles, and babes.  Just as aforementioned, the theme here is over-the-top.  The "WOW" moments are plentiful and paced with a ethnic rap-infused soundtrack.  The action, car chases, and stunt work are unique, breathlessly shot in the Brazilian sun, and top everything from its predecessors.  If you like the series, you will love the latest and gleefully wonder where they will go next.   

LESSON #1: REMEMBER THE RULES OF THE ROAD-- OK, so maybe it's not the same movie (whatsoever) without the blatant disregard of seemingly every possible traffic law, but at least put on a seat belt or two, fellas.  You would lose track of the moving violations in this movie faster than you would lose track of counting "F" words in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (435, in fact, thanks Wikipedia; speaking of the "F" word, must-see digital shorts from College Humor).

LESSON #2: FAMILY STICKS TOGETHER-- It's an often-repeated trait in this movie series, but if there's one thing Dominic Toretto values more than money and racing cars, it's family.  Whether it's praying before a meal, forgiving a wayward family member who's made mistakes, or keeping loved ones safe while wanted by the law, family truly should stick together through every obstacle and sacrifice.

LESSON #3: IF YOU CAN'T BEAT THEM, JOIN THEM-- This marks the fifth movie in the series AND the fifth consecutive film in the series to feature an enemy that comes over to side with, help, or work for our fine Toretto family business.  What does Vin Diesel have in his voice that keeps flipping law enforcement officials?!  That man could sell doughnuts to cops standing in line at Dunkin Donuts.

LESSON #4: RUNNING ISN'T FREEDOM-- In nearly every "one-last-job" heist film that features successful crooks that make off with a set-for-life score, the credits roll and our anti-heroes ride off into the sunset.  We never see the escaped criminals adjusting to a life of seedy foreign locales,beating extradition, and dodging the heat that still follows them.  In every F&F movie, including this one, there's been a welcome mentality along the way that defines the difference between running and freedom.  Our anti-heroes may drive fast cars to run, but prefer the parked home life.  Running means you have to always watch your back, while freedom is the peace in knowing that your past is behind you.  Lots of crooks might ride of into the sunset, but few really make it to freedom.