Fast Five ✮✮
Eat Guardrail, Sucker!
by Glenn Lovell
Chrome dome to chrome dome. Twitching cheek to quivering jowl. Vin vs. The Rock.
Let’s get it on!
C’mon, admit it. It may be the muscle cars and outrageous, CG-sweetened stunts that drive the F&F franchise, but the real reason you want to see “Fast Five,” the fourth sequel to 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” is the promise of a ’roid rage mano a mano between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson.
The producers don’t disappoint. Diesel, back as speed freak Dominic Toretto, and Johnson, new to the series as Hobbs, fascistic leader of an elite DSS squad that has tracked Dom to Rio, slug it out about two-thirds of the way through this overlong, under-scripted cartoon of an action movie.
“You’re going down, Toretto,” Hobbs announces, shedding his bullet-proof vest.
Like a couple of terminator bots, they trade roundhouse punches, crash through concrete walls and ‒ in a bit inspired by Popeye and Bluto ‒ spit broken glass.
Who wins? Let’s just say that Hobbs is the first to reach for a weapon, a very large wrench. And as any fan of superhero slugfests knows, this is a no-no, a sure sign of flagging confidence.
Yes, there’s a semblance of plot that sets up this face-off and, yes, there’s a series of increasingly outrageous cliffhanger escapes, most involving high-performance vehicles, including a Corvette Grand Sport, Ford GT40 and Porsche GT3. In fact the showroom cars, once window-dressing in the James Bond films, now exhibit more personality than their human co-stars.
This new installment opens where “Fast & Furious” (2009) ended, with the rescue of Dom from a prison bus. Behind the wheels of the intercept cars are lovebirds Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom’s sister, and former federal agent O’Conner (Paul Walker). In typical F&F fashion, the “rescue” appears to kill everyone on the bus but the film’s star. Par for the course. As in the Transformer and X-Men franchises, the stunts defy every law of physics and, because they’re not particularly well coordinated, elicit more catcalls than gasps.
In Rio, Dom and the others rendezvous with Vince (Matt Schulze), who suggests a caper involving a couple of repossessed trophy cars. The high-speed train heist that follows utilizes flatbed truck, acetylene torches and a messy firefight between DEA agents and drug cartel forces. It nets the good/bad guys a few more bruises than anticipated ‒ that free-fall from a trestle bridge has got to smart ‒ and brings into question Vince’s loyalty. One of the cars comes fully loaded, with a computer chip that conveniently lays out a Brazilian kingpin’s operation. This guy, played by all-purpose baddie Joaquim de Almeida, vows to take the Americans down.
In the tradition of every crime movie dating to “The Asphalt Jungle,” Dom decides on “one last job” before hanging it up. This means, of course, a team of specialists, including from the previous films Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon, Don Omar and, as the ace safecracker, rapper Ludacris. Together, in what may be the dumbest heist in motion picture history, they make off with a house-size vault guarded by an army of cops on the take. (It’s amazing that Rio’s city fathers would have agreed to a production that feeds on the city’s reputation as a crime mecca.)
“Fast Five” clocks in at a very long two hours plus. We could definitely have done without the lengthy epilogue, which feels like another sequel. Returning director Justin Lin, who once upon had something to say (see “Better Luck Tomorrow”), relies heavily on his editing team to keep things moving at a ferocious clip. People die, cars collide, things get blown sky high. But none of it feels at all suspenseful. Lin is much better at comedy relief, which includes an ongoing game of one-upmanship by Gibson and Ludacris and a sexy con by Gadot, who beats the all-hands drug czar at his own game.
Will there be a “Fast & Furious” six? Does Detroit run on product placement? Lin teases with an open-ended ending that screams, “Drivers, restart your engines!” Hey, why not combine franchises a la “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”? The producers may have already thought of this. It’s no accident, I’m sure, that this feature is preceded by the trailer for “Tranformers: Dark of the Moon.”
FAST FIVE ✮✮ With Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang. Directed by Justin Lin; scripted by Chris Morgan. 130 minutes. PG-13 (for over-the-top, mostly bloodless violence)