When people become aware that I review films, at the first sign of disagreement on the merits of the latest blockbuster, someone inevitably wheels out the line that I, as a snobby film connoisseur, didn’t like it because it wasn’t made for me, that it was only supposed to be fun, too stupid to bear up to my apparently neverending critical analysis.
Fast Five is the opposite of that: it’s a movie that isn’t nearly stupid enough, that tries to be clever when there is no-one within a fifty mile radius of a screening who wants to see anything other than an hour and a half of explosive car chases, stunts galore and women of trouser-bursting sexiness. Character development? Social commentary? A goddamn pregnancy subplot? Woefully done, and detrimental to what should have been an extravaganza of brainless entertainment, had it stuck to the tone of the brilliant opening.
I didn’t see the last movie, but am told this one picks up where that one ended, with Vin Diesel’s Dominic being convicted and sent to prison. Fortunately, his old gang are waiting to execute what must be one of the worst thought through breakouts in the history of human planning, but it looks spectacular so logic be damned. EXACTLY, Fast Five. That’s what I wanted from you. Not a trace of common sense, just balls-out lunacy. Things get better from there, with a sequence on a train that, one shot of bad CGI aside, has some brilliantly physical stunts and action escalated to levels of preposterousness above and beyond anything I could have imagined. (At least, until the film finally recaptures the same spirit for its climax). It’s a giddy joy, making the comedown when the movie starts trying to do plot and character all the more distressing.
Every moment the cast are out of their cars, Fast Five struggles terribly. Character depth only works when you have actors capable of some degree of subtlety and that’s not what these guys are here for. In fact, the performances turn out to be among the film’s highlights because they’re hilariously dreadful. Vin Diesel’s attempts at emoting produces some brilliantly overwrought grimaces, while his voice is at such a ridiculous level of deepness (take notes, Christian Bale) that you can imagine him waking up every morning and gargling a quarry. Paul Walker – oh bless you, Paul Walker – appears lost at being asked to do anything other than look good behind the wheel of a fast car. He tries so very hard, but never manages to push himself to a second facial expression or un-deadify his eyes. Asking him to perform this misconceived character work is completely unfair, because even if he’d managed to elevate his acting, the material would still be abysmal. But in a roundabout way, this makes him sympathetic because it seems he shares the desire for the movie to stop trying to do anything worthy and get back to more roaring muscle cars and explosions. In that respect, this is his finest work to date, even if it is completely by accident. The rest of the cast don’t have much to do other than express bravado, but Tyrese Gibson has a lot of fun delivering some terrible one-liners. The girls mostly stand around and look gorgeous, which is fine to an extent, but they look even sexier when driving the hell out of a pimped out racing car, so it’s disappointing they don’t get involved in the two major chase sequences.
The unquestionable standout from this motley crew is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who gives a performance of such hilariously deranged intensity that the screen electrifies at his every appearance. His Agent Hobbs is a perfect fit in every way for this movie, from his psychotic thornbush of a goatee, intergalactic biceps and goggle-eyed stare. He’s obviously supposed to be the mirror to Vin Diesel’s Toretto, his existence defined by enforcing his duty where Toretto lives for freedom and loyalty. Fast Five is their unrequited love story. Most of their scenes together are framed in mid-shot, presumably to keep their duelling erections out of sight. When the two finally grapple (a battle of the beefcake titans ruined by slipshod editing and distracting motion blur), it’s less a fight scene than two burly men trying to express their love in the only way they know how, wrapping each other in their sweaty muscles and squeezing away their frustration, ending with one straddling the other in a pool of blood and sweat but unable to fulfill their desires under the judgmental eyes of the cohorts surrounding them. It’s like Twilight, but with bodybuilders.
The movie has so many things going for it, whether intentionally or not, but the middle act just kills it. Rumours that the series is being moved into crime thriller territory could prove suicidal, because everything related to the Ocean’s Eleven-style heist is flat and rife with filler material dragging out the unnecessary over two hour running time. It’s even more difficult to feel involved with any of this when the film’s main villain, against whom Tornetto has a vendetta for no immediately apparent reason, is so weak. The position is filled by a corrupt Brazilian corporate head, whose modus operandi is to give the poor something to lose (accommodation, education, running water) so that he can use them in his drug smuggling and money laundering operations. Is it just me, or does that sound pretty fair? Sure, he’s kind of a turd when his underlings disobey him, but it’s not as though most of the people working for him would have great employment prospects anyway, and it sounds like they get a passable enough way of life in exchange.
Weirder still is that the one thing has obviously has been cut from this arduous middle section is a street race: we get Tornetto and a racer rival exchanging tough talk, then cut straight back to the garage where Tornetto has won the race and the car. Considering how much dead wood there is elsewhere, it’s infuriatingly typical of how utterly misguided this middle act is that the one thing deemed unwanted is an action sequence that, heaven forfend, risked being fun. While the logical fallacies are easy to ignore when the action is in full swing, they become increasingly evident and frustrating during this stretch (which must amount to at least an hour, although it feels like so much more) which consists mostly of planning and flat dialogue exchanges.
Fortunately, the movie picks itself up with a climactic chase scene that is almost worth the prior agony. It’s ever bit the glorious noisy nonsense promised by the opening twenty minutes and so grievously missed every since, abandoning every scrap of realism in favour of pounding adrenaline. It will surely be among the best action sequences of the year, living up to every word of the Fast & Furious name. The stupider that Fast Five allows itself to be, the better it is, making it a great shame that so much of the movie is spent coasting when such a great engine was parked under the hood.
Matthew Razak: 71 – Good. As one who has always been angry that the the Fast and Furious series actually lacks a plethora of decent car chases Fast Five was both a relief and a detriment. The final car chase and opening sequence are enough to make up for the film’s horrific middle where a tepid heist and boring character development occur, but those great car chases just make it all the more obvious that more car chases were needed. Thank goodness for Dwayne Johnson being campily awesome in every way possible and for the fact that the last 15 minutes are nothing but one of the most original and creative car chases I’ve seen in a while — even if it is entirely unbelievable. I can forgive a lot if you make me leave the theater thinking “THAT… WAS… AWESOME.”