Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fast Five

Vin Diesel versus the Rock.
That was really all it took to get my ass into the theater for this one. Were it just Vin Diesel or just The Rock, then I wouldn't have been so keen, but the two of them clashing on screen, man that is the definition of cinematic event. I can't really explain it outside of that. Either you get the appeal or you don't.

I've never seen a "The Fast and The Furious" movie before, and, what's more, had no interest in the previous installments of this franchise. From what I've heard, they're car porn, in the literal sense that the story is ridiculous, that acting is terrible, and all its audience really wants is to get to the cars, tricked out and ridden hard.

Fast Five is, perhaps (as I don't have enough experience with the series to truly attest), a change up from this formula as it skews more in the vein of an Oceans 11 gettin'-the-gang-together heist movie than a street racing, evade-the-cops movie. There are cars in here, but street racing and the culture seems a distant background element.

The film opens with recently convicted Dominic Toretto (Diesel) fleeing from justice after his prison bus is overrun, meeting up with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and her ex FBI lover Brian (Paul Walker) in Rio at the shanty of an old friend. They're hired to help a local gang recover some vintage sport cars from federal custody on a train, but Dom senses something is amiss and they break off on their own. Nothing goes as planned. Soon, the FaFfies have both the kingpin of Rio (Hernan Reyes) and the Feds number one tracker, Luke Hobbs (a very sweaty Dwayne Johnson) on their tail. But, after discovering one of the stolen cars contains info on the kingpin's money laundering routes, instead of running, the FaFfies plan ye olde one last heist and call in the posse, consisting of various characters from the previous movies.

The three-way chess game (with muscle cars and humvees) is pretty well orchestrated, even if one has to wonder frequently how an entire police force can be bought off and how feds from the US get so much clearance to kill and destroy as they do. There are aspects of personal drama to some of the characters, such as Mia is pregnant, and the betrayal of an old friend. All of the drama in the film is hokey, and neither Diesel nor Walker seem capable of emoting with any suggestion at all of investment in their characters. They're figurative chess pieces made to move about on screen and make things happen in the overall game.

Much of the posse are amusing caricatures (Tyrese and Ludacris amongst others) and the film seems to excel at these one-note figures. But if there's anything approaching good acting, it's Dwayne Johnson as he absolutely owns every second of screen time he's in. He makes crappy dialogue sound exciting, even humorous and his charisma is as profuse as the sweat he emits perpetually throughout the film.

It's a rarity for a franchise to get bigger with each successive outing, especially by the time it hits its fifth sequel, but this one goes over the top, and often. The action sequences are all unbelievable. There's not a lot of superhuman stuff happening to the stars of the film (unlike say latter Indiana Jones or Die Hard sequels), but the cars are definitely granted god-like powers. All the action pieces are cleanly shot... not a whole lot of quick-cuts and shaky cam here, you always know what's going on. There's a chase sequence early on through the shantytown of Rio that's pretty good (as is almost any decently shot chase sequence in Rio's shantytown), but doesn't quite measure up to the parkour-infused chase throughout the same area in The Incredible Hulk. Oh, and then there's that Diesel vs. Rock fight sequence... perhaps not as grandiose as I was expecting, but they still bring it (but of course, like every superhero team-up, it has to wind up a stalemate and ultimately they work together, begrudgingly).

Look, let's be blunt, as far as big, dumb blockbuster action movies go, they don't get much meatheadier than this. But then that is what makes it so damn entertaining. It makes no pretense of being believable, it just tries hard at being entertaining while challenging your suspension of disbelief at every turn.

I'm not sure I'll remember much of it three months down the road, but, in spite of myself, I liked this, quite a bit.