I remember watching The Fast and the Furious many years ago and losing interest a quarter of the way through. I'm not a car guy, and an action movie about fast cars is not a surefire way to hold my interest. So when a friend of mine and I went to see Fast Five, Justin Lin's entry into the Fast and the Furious franchise, I resignedly set my standards sufficiently low.
Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), the hero of the series, is rescued en route to prison by his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and former-enemy-now-friend Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker). The trio seek refuge from the authorities in Rio de Janeiro, where they join their friend Vince (Matt Schulze) in stealing three cars from a train. The cars are protected by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, who are killed by one of Vince's associates, interested in stealing only one car. The theft of the cars puts Mia, Dom and Brian in the sights of the owner of the vehicles, crime boss Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Framed for the murders, they also have to deal with Diplomatic Security Services agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who arrives with his team to bring Dom to justice.
Following my one failed attempt at watching The Fast and Furious, I made no attempt to keep up with the movies that came between the first installment and Fast Five. Knowing nothing of the production of Fast Five, I went in expecting a movie about street racing. Instead, Fast Five actually has a story about more than racing up and down streets. It's not the most original heist movie, but I wasn't expecting a heist movie; and I like heist movies. In other words, I was pleasantly surprised.
What makes Fast Five interesting is that instead of Dom Toretto's well-established badassery running riot over a bunch of inefficient, out-matched and out-maneuvered law enforcement redshirts, he's given an equal match, and then some, in Dwayne Johnson's Agent Luke Hobbs. Johnson significantly bulked up and grew a goatee for the role, and while neither he nor Diesel acted a damn in this movie, they did have good chemistry in their scenes together; Toretto the loveable criminal, the thief with honor, and Hobbs, the unstoppable, walking mountain who will get his man, whatever it takes.
Still, this is, at heart, an action movie. In Rio, all the women are beautiful, the police officers (bar the only woman on the force) are corrupt (and despite what I said earlier, the final act sees the entire Rio de Janeiro Police Department wiped out), and everybody carries guns. Joaquim de Almeida is good enough as the slimy crime lord Reyes, who gets his comeuppance at the end, but this isn't a movie about the state of crime in Brazil. I'd say this is a movie about cars, but surprisingly, Fast Five is more than that. Instead of the cars being the center of attention, now it's the story that does most of the traveling. The cars are just along for the ride.
Typical of a heist movie of this ilk, Dom's team provide the comic relief, whether it's figuring out how to split the $100 million that Reyes is hoarding, or the slinky Gal Gadot seducing a palm print out of the gangster. Slightly more disappointing was the death of Hobbs' men; we're led to believe that they're the counterpart for Dom's people, but they're just killed off so that the attention is on Hobbs and Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), the one good cop in Rio - who also happens to be a beautiful woman.
There's enough of a story for Mia and Brian to provide a respite from the wheels, leaving Fast Five to be played pretty straight - fancy cars used for a heist, which goes wrong, resulting in two bald, monotone muscle men devastating the streets of Rio, with cars. And you know what? It works.
4.0/5.0: Now that the cars aren't the story, Fast Five actually takes the Fast and the Furious franchise somewhere interesting.