Directed by: Justin Lin
Premise: The fifth film in The Fast and the Furious franchise. Hiding in Rio, the gang of car thieves are pursed by a federal agent (Dwayne Johnson) and a local drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida).
What Works: Most ongoing cinema franchises require injections of originality every few installments to stay out of a creative rut. Sometimes this means a new directorial style such as Joel Schumacher taking on Batman Forever, a change in setting as in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, or an entire reboot such as 2009’s Star Trek. Fast Five maintains a lot of the recognizable elements of its predecessors such as the main cast, elaborate car chases, and underlying themes of honor and machismo. But it also adds elements of heist pictures like Ocean’s 11 and action films like The Bourne Ultimatum and these new elements give Fast Five a fresh approach to the series. Like the other installments, the action and racing scenes of Fast Five are absurd but fun and the characters have developed enough rapport over the previous installments that returning to them has a friendly familiarity. With the new emphasis on hard action, the film is able to punch up the formula. Fast Five abandons a lot of the focus on racing but that is mostly for the best. By the end of the fourth Fast and the Furious picture the racing plotlines had gotten tired and the action-adventure approach revitalizes the series. Dwayne Johnson is well cast as the federal agent attempting to bring in the band of car thieves lead by Vin Diesel’s character. Although the film does not give Johnson much to do, he is a formidable on screen presence and is able to be a sufficient antagonist to Diesel’s character.
What Doesn’t: Less impressive is the subplot involving a drug lord played by Joaquim de Almeida. Although he is a competent actor who often plays roles like this, the script does not give the character opportunities to display menace and realize the threat he is supposed to pose to the heroes. In the attempt to make the new Fast and the Furious picture more like other action and heist films, the filmmakers deliberately steal quite a few scenarios and set pieces from other movies such as Clear and Present Danger and Mission: Impossible. Fast Five also suffers in its editing. The film does not have the flashier cinematic techniques of the previous films, some of which may have been dropped as a part of the new action approach in this film. Fast Five also goes on a bit longer than it should, especially in the preparation for the heist.
Bottom Line: Fast Five is a fun action movie and a successful turn for the Fast and the Furious series. Although it is not particularly memorable and steals from a lot of the pictures it emulates, it manages to be an entertaining two hours.
Episode: #338 (May 8, 2011)