Stupid and preposterous.
Did you expect something else with Fast Five? If so then, then open your glove box and gently slam your hand in it. That pain you’re feeling is your re-entry back to Planet Earth. If that doesn't work, have someone back over your foot.
The movie, the fifth in the Fast and Furious franchise, is also a little fun — guiltily so — but only because it’s so stupid and preposterous. The things that happen in this movie don’t happen in comic-book movies, where the heroes are mutants and the villains are space aliens and the plots take place on planets with less gravity, no physics and a wanton disregard for Newton's Laws. To tolerate the film you must suspend disbelief; to enjoy it you must walk disbelief out to a firing squad and light it a cigarette.
If you've seen the other films, then you've seen this: it's more action, mayhem and crime by way of automobile. Although, this one reunites a bunch of the old actors, basically joining the two sagas of the franchise — they can be categorized as the movies with Vin Diesel and the movies without Vin Diesel — it mostly centers on the two stars. Diesel is the meathead Dominic Toretto, whose love of fast cars keeps getting him busted. Paul Walker plays his foil/buddy, ex-FBI agent Brian O'Conner, who busts him out of jail so they can perform more dangerous car stunts.
Dom and Brian head off to Brazil, where they get entangled with a kingpin who has an empire of crooked cops at his disposal. We know the film is in Rio de Janeiro because every scene is shot in a favela, or Brazilian slum, and director Justin Lin constantly reminds us of that by including the word favela in every sentence. We also know we're in Rio because Lin shows us the Christ the Redeemer statue, which deserves some kind of cameo credit. In this setting — beautiful beaches, the vibrant downtown district and sprawling shantytowns — Brian and Dom lay waste to Brazil, plowing their cars into every national treasure except that statue, which is luckily next to no roadways.
The film runs on a mixture of ethanol and cliché, and it uses every one in the book: the One Last Job trick, the lover's quarrel that ends with the outburst "I'm pregnant," the "I'll give you 24 hours before I hunt you down" clause, the Villain Joins the Hero ploy, and lots of recycled, cheap one-liners. If you've seen just five movies in your lifetime, then you've already seen nearly every trick Fast Five will dish out.
Car chases abound, as do high-octane heists and brutal shoot-outs. These, of course, are all implausible on an obscene level. In one sequence, the stars plunge into a deep gorge with nothing but water to break their fall. No one told the director that water, when entering it at Mach 3, might as well be concrete. In another scene, a bus rolls over after apparently tripping on a dime on the highway. The final sequence involves two cars pulling a massive steel vault the size of a boxcar through the entire city. It would be like a toddler pulling a John Deere tractor from a dead stop, but never mind realism.
Joining all this ludicrous bombast is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has facial hair more intricately manicured than the gardens of Versailles. He’s so bad it’s comical. The film gives him some hokey dialogue ("We'll catch'em. Not a phone call more and not a bullet less." "Put on your thunderwear.") and he's often shown cleaning his gun, as if we would think he were a pansy if he weren't stroking gun steel, sharpening knives or lumberjacking the entire Northwest. No one really thinks he's the next Schwarzenegger anymore; no one except maybe Johnson himself.
The film builds and builds and builds right up to its ultimate destiny: the two sweaty meatheads — Diesel and Johnson — brawling in an extended fight sequence. The movie could have been called Bald Guys With No Necks Punch Each Other and it would have worked. This sequence, which is actually the false bottom on the film’s finale — oh, there's more — is the male equivalent of women mud wrestling in bikinis. And Fast Five milks every sweaty second of the fight. By the end of the mutual pummeling there's nothing really left for The Rock to do, so he inexplicably joins the team he's trying to apprehend.
Diesel, though, give the guy a hand: He's taken one performance — 2001's The Fast and the Furious — and turned it into a gearhead's magnum opus. He holds court over cars, imparts vehicular wisdom, says grace, swigs a beer, and generally seems to glow in this Zen-like state of perpetual car bliss. His acting is laughable, but his presence on the screen is unforgettable as he soaks up the film's wild cornball energy.
The women of Fast Five don't come out as lucky as the men, though. Jordana Brewster, with her sharp features and waifish shape spends much of the movie as the sympathetic shoulder to cry on for the men. Then she gets pregnant, which means she's out of action so she can shelter Baby Brian in various half-shirts and booty-riding shorts. The other woman, played by Gal Gadot, seems to be a legitimate member of the team, a team that doesn't assign duties to its members based on gender ... oh wait, she uses her ass to secure the kingpin's fingerprints.
Then there's the case of poor Elsa Pataky, who plays an honest policia in Rio. See, she's a widow; her husband, a cop, was gunned down after he refused to take a bribe. After his death, she joined the force to be a crusader to his cause. When she's not being rescued by all the big strong men, the film paints her as this delicate and passionate woman who mourns her husband while trying to undo the corruption in Brazil's wacky system. That doesn't last. I should have known something would have gone awry with this character when The Rock's rock began bulging in his pants when he saw her dossier. "I chose you because of your smile," he says. Then Fast Five asks this crusading cop to shoot at other cops, rob the police station and destroy downtown Rio — where are her principles now? By the end of the film, the widower has been hastily thrown into Dom's arms, where she ditches her modest wardrobe and noble plight so she can be — wait for it — some hoochie-mama on a beach with a bunch of criminals. This movie's understanding of women is better than, say, Sucker Punch — in which all women are rape fantasies and sperm receptacles — but still it's desperately short of understanding women on any level deeper than,"Hot women sell movie tickets."
Fast Five, of course, also fetishizes the car in a soft-core kind of way. People who adore automobiles will be thoroughly titillated as the film frames cars in all kinds of glorious angles. It doesn’t give these cars many interesting things to do, nor does it reinvent the car chase by any means, but it does try so hard. Most of the action is visually comprehensible, though it is edited into a clustery mess. And, for the life of me, I could not figure out which cars were traveling what direction and with which drivers in the last action scene.
One thing that should be unforgivable: Dodge's super-heavy product placement. I kept waiting for Morgan Spurlock to jump out of the backseat as some kind of commentary on the nature of product placement, to which Fast Five sacrifices its soul to the Dodge Charger, a car that is as much a character in this film as Superman is to his. Chargers are in chases, shoot-outs, perilous games of chicken, used as vehicular retribution, cursed at, spit upon, and unnecessarily glorified in an extended sequence where they drag that massive vault through Rio. Curse these obvious product placements.
The film is stupid and bad, but it's also precisely up to par for a summer starter. Call me a Fast/Furious apologist. Most people turned their movie brains off in December. Before quality can be appreciated again, they need a jolt to the system. And Fast Five will probably do the trick. I knew the movie was stupid, but somehow I admired it for being every kind of stupid in just the right mixture.