Movie Review - Fast Five (****)


FAST FIVE.  130 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Justin Lin.  Written by Chris Morgan.

When Fast & Furious opened in April 2009 to a surprising $71 million and rescued the Fast/Furious franchise from the dead by reuniting the original cast, you just knew the studio and filmmakers would take a victory lap in the form of a fifth movie.  But the amazing thing about Fast Five is that it plays less like a creatively bankrupt money-grab sequel, and more like a firing-on-all-cylinders first movie in an all-new franchise.  Action junkies and car chase lovers, take note.  The summer movie season is off to an excellent start.
Writer Chris Morgan and Director Justin Lin have worked on the last three movies in the series, so they clearly know the territory.  But they seem more inspired this time around. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the studio (Universal), in all its recent struggles, realized that this was their only real franchise, and dumped a boatload of money into the project.  
The end result?  This is the one Fast/Furious movie that doesn't leave anything to chance. And though it may not mean much to the uninitiated, Fast Five hits the entertainment jackpot in so many fun, exciting ways that it's not only the best Fast/Furious movie, it's also the first must-see movie of the year.  Fast Five earns your $10+ and then some by amping up the action, adding Dwayne ("The Rock") Johnson as the antagonist, and featuring a climactic car chase that packs a true visual wallop and is destructive as anything you've ever seen in a Michael Bay movie.
Everybody's back this time around.  Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster pick up right where the last film took off.  Their characters are given even less attention this time around - partially because more attention is paid toward the action, and partially because there's a certain relaxation at play knowing that audiences have seen these characters in four other movies.  Why reinvent the wheel?  To compensate for the lack of significant character development, Morgan and Lin bring back the best characters from the previous movies, including those played by Tyrese, Ludacris, and more.  
On the run in Rio, with federal agents hot on their pursuit, Diesel (Dom) and Walker (Brian) decide to reunite their cohorts to pull off the proverbial one last score.  The job?  Steal $100 million from a drug lord's giant 800-lb safe in a police station full of corrupt cops.  The plot is basically Ocean's Eleven, but with cars.  The script is smart and serviceable - Morgan doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, and Lin keeps the pace fast and, well, furious.  Fitting.  It all leads up to Dom and Brian driving around Rio with that giant safe being pulled behind them, destroying every inch of car, building, and street around them.  It is one heck of an action sequence - expertly blending in-camera and CGI effects shots with impressive stunt driving.
Adding The Rock as the bad-ass fed out to catch Dom and Brian no matter what was a brilliant masterstroke.  He owns the screen from the first second and acts like it's his movie, even though he's in a supporting role.  Hard to believe anybody can make Diesel look small, but that's The Rock for you.  Recognizing the audience's need to see these guys match up against each other, Fast Five features a gritty, extended fight sequence between the two titans.  It's like watching King Kong battle a T-Rex.  In a word, awesome.
Admittedly, I've always been a fan of the Fast/Furious movies.  But I enjoyed them on a mostly surface, guilty-pleasure level.  This is the first of them that I can see others getting into.  It's not about the cars or the hot girls or the machismo, even though all of those are here in spades.  Fast Five operates as an engaging, eye-popping action extravaganza, and though it slightly overstays its welcome with an overlong, unnecessary coda, I'd happily line up in another two years for what I can only imagine will be Furious Six.

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