Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fast Five - Theatrical Review


Release Date: April 29, 2011

10 years later and here we are with the fifth entry into a franchise that was built on the whole street racing craze. Even though with each successive film the cars became less and less of a factor they still found an audience that cared. Now with this latest sequel the circle is complete as all the primary cast members from each of the previous films come together and head full throttle into absurdity as they attempt to reinvigorate the series with custom body makeover.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 12 Down Town Disney
Time: 11:00 am April 29, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D

Loves: Practical action stunts
Likes: Car chases
Neutral: Just about all the starring actors
Hates: People that still think this series is good
Story: Why would we want something like that?

The history of sequels with this series is almost as ridiculous as each of their unrelated titles suggest. The first film was by and large a complete rip-off of the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze classic Point Break but instead of surfboards we got street racing. The sequels that came after it were to put it lightly...a mess. The one person everyone associated with the series, Vin Diesel, went MIA after the first film which left Paul Walker to carry the torch. Then with the third film even Walker decided to step aside and then we got all new blood in his wake. After each of their careers failed to take off they came back for a fourth film to help regain some of that former glory and wouldn't you know it, it worked. Sure the fourth film itself was complete trash but it proved that all anybody really wanted was the whole crew back together again. With this fifth film, helmed by director Justin Lin who was responsible for the last two films, it is only fitting that they bring everyone back as they try to inject some fresh ideas into a franchise that has run out of gas.

At the end of the fourth film Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) had been sentenced to a lengthy prison term and determined to not let him serve the time both his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and her boyfriend/ex-cop/criminal Brian (Paul Walker) break him out while en route to the big house. With all three of them now fugitives they have spread out into different countries to avoid detection. The day comes though when they need some cash and an old friend, Vince (Matt Schulze), gets them involved in a daring heist that requires stealing some high priced automobiles from a moving train down in Brazil. Things of course don't go as planned and before you know it there are some dead DEA agents killed by their greedy partners who work for a local crime lord named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Those deaths get pinned on the four of them and soon both the Brazilian drug cartel and a special FBI task force led by an extremely motivated man named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) are after them.

The gangs all here.

So far this is well traveled territory for the fast and furious franchise with cars being stolen, people being shot at and the obligatory ridiculous car stunts. Where things get interesting (or different at least) is when our outlaws decide it is time to stop running. They figure that they will never truly be free until they can dig deep enough so that no one will ever find them. Using a microchip loaded with Reyes's drug money locations they hatch a plan to steal over 100 million dollars from the drug lord and get off the grid forever. Knowing they will need some help they call in the cavalry including just about everyone from the past four films such as Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gabot) along with a couple fresh faces to add to the mix. Together they will attempt to pull off one of the biggest bank heists of all time while going up against constant hit squads sent after them by Reyes, Hobb's lethal squad of soldiers and the entire Brazilian police force.

Ever since the first film this series has had a sort of identity crisis which is more than evident in how many different ways they come up with to title each new entry. The Fast & The Furious had probably the best mixture of street racing and some good action beats. 2 Fast 2 Furious was just a mess of a movie that tried to play on the drug trade and very little street racing. Tokyo Drift (the third film) decided to ditch all the action adventure stuff and go back to what most people wanted with almost nothing but street racing. Fast & Furious (the fourth film) then came back to all the drug smuggling stuff and once again the street racing angle was almost non-existent. Fast Five stays fairly close to the structure of the fourth film with it's drug lords and high octane car chases but it has added a new aspect that none of the other films had.

Get used to this image, you will see it A LOT!

To put it simply Fast Five is the filmmakers attempt to turn the franchise into a more action oriented experience. They no longer even try to use street racing for a plot device (the one real street race they partake in is done off screen) and I am kind of thankful for that. Instead of watching all these ethnic groups get together and drool over each others vehicles while their women walk around with their asses hanging out (honestly, why do they even wear anything at all?), we get a film that for the most part has become a pure action thrill ride and this switch is all for the better. The first 30 to 40 minutes of the film felt almost like non-stop action and the pacing was remarkable. I kept expecting them to stop and give us some character moments but it never happened...until about half way through the movie that is.

With such a promising first act (action wise anyways) they go and screw it up by adding the one thing this series didn't need, a bank heist. I know what they were going for here, it was like an Ocean's Eleven-lite (Torreto's Eleven?) with them bringing in all these people with different skills to help. Now, a good portion of the film is dedicated to Torreto's gang and their preparations for the big heist which just brought everything to a grinding halt. I am sure there are fans out there that loved seeing all these familiar faces from past films come together at last but if you don't give a damn about any of them then you will probably feel like me and check out for the entire second act of the film as they go through the motions. I'm sorry, but you just can't have the first half of the film be so action heavy and then come to a grinding halt so we can watch characters plant cameras in walls, try to get a man's hand print using a bikini or drive a car around an empty warehouse for almost an hour.

Hobbs is a very intense individual.

The funny thing about me not giving a crap about any of these returning characters (honestly, they are not likable people) is that the one person in the film that I actually liked was the guy that was trying to bring them down the whole movie. Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs was probably the only character in the entire film that felt like his motivations were honest and true not to mention the intensity that Johnson brought to the role. I only recently caught his last action flick Faster but with that and this performance I am back on board with the guy. He constantly seemed like he was ready to rip someones head off, when he would bark out orders to his troops he did it with a do-it-or-I-will-eat-your-children attitude that was just amazing to behold. I wanted him to catch Torreto and everyone else, especially after all the shit that hits the fan in the final act.

And what a final act it is. It almost made up for all the nothing that happened in the middle of the film. I hadn't seen this much vehicular destruction since Bad Boys 2. The best part is that it was all filmed correctly, there was no damn shaky cam or spinning dolly shots. I was actually able to keep track of everything that was happening on screen at all times. Other action directors need to take a cue from what Justin Lin did here because this is the epitome of white knuckled action can be if shot right. The only thing I found distracting the whole time were the idiots behind the wheel of the cars. I could care less if they made it out OK because honestly they were sort of in the wrong for wanting to rob this drug lord in the first place. I mean, they could have given the guy what he wanted (the microchip) and been on their merry way with no problems.

Paul Walker tries to do his best George Clooney impression and fails completely.

All the tuneups in the world can't save a car that is missing some essential parts to make it run smooth and neither can a film with so many plot holes and hiccups. I know that attacking a 2 Fast & Furious: Tokyo Five movie for story issues is like picking on a handicap kid but when it tries to be so darn clever I can't help but to point out just how dumb it actually is. I won't mention everything because that would just take too long but some things have to be brought to light. Like for instance the moment directly after that plunge both Torreto and Brian take into the river where they are captured by some drug cartel goons. First it is highly unlikely that anybody would be waiting for them at the bottom of the canyon like that but the best part is how they get away. Somehow Torreto gains super human strength and breaks his cuffs as Brian proceeds to leg lock and snap people's necks.

The worse offenses come later though with characters reappearing out of nowhere for no reason other than to die suddenly or other characters being involved because we needed a pretty face. Early on Hobbs requests a translator and picks this really gorgeous rookie Brazilian police officer Elena (Elsa Pataky). She becomes somewhat of an important character I guess given the storyline but she never once translates anything. She is there to become a new love interest for Torreto which is set up in the most ridiculous fashion possible (he loses his necklace and she finds it). The list goes on, when Vince shows up in the third act he literally comes out of nowhere. And he is reintroduced by saving Mia who is stupidly out in a market buying groceries (they are wanted by drug runners, the FBI and all of Brazil's police force and she is out buying fruit?). How did he find her? Where the hell has he been? He just so happened to arrive the night before the big job, what gives? Don't even get me started on the technology Hobbs uses to identify people using a traffic cam image that scans underneath their face masks while in a moving vehicle or how the police never notice a huge chunk of wall missing in their restroom.

Yeah, these movies used to be about cars right?

All that can be forgiven though. I am not a hard guy to please, just give me some cool action scenes and I am yours. What can't be forgiven is using up a third of your film's running time with something that just doesn't matter. That huge heist they are putting together, all the preparations they make, all the crap we seem them go through (literally in one case) is for nothing. When the final act kicks into high gear there is an incident that was caused by probably one of the worst decisions made by an evil drug lord of all time that makes their plan obsolete. So they were forced to improvise and (this isn't ruining anything for anyone that has seen the trailer) go in guns blazing to rip the damn vault right out of the wall. Yeah, that was cool and yeah that whole final car chase was cool but did we really need to sit through almost an hour of prep work with characters we don't give two shits about planning a job that never happens the way they planned it? Plus their patched-together-at-the-last-minute scheme was just a bit too clever given how little time they had to come up with it.

I know that many of these issues will fall upon deaf ears because there is a legion of fans for this series that will love it no matter what. At least this time though I can't really fault them for liking Fast Five because in the end it is a really good and competent action movie. All the stunts and crazy ass tricks they pull off (while defying every law of physics imaginable) were done extremely well. It is strange that it took five films before the series finally found it's calling to be a real action movie but here it is. If there is another sequel (Fast & Sixerious?) I hope they try to refine their formula even more and ditch all the silly character moments and just give us as much crazy action as possible. I would much rather watch the entire Brazilian police force get wiped out by an out of control vault than sit through another bromance moment between Torreto and Brian any day of the week. If you are in the market for a good, if over long, action film to get your summer started early then Fast Five will not disappoint. Just remember to check your brain at the door when you...




L3ader (Kami Talebi) said...

Good review! However the "fresh faces" that are are added to the team are in the 4th film as well as the little skit they showed before the movie in the 4th film (its on the extras in the disc). You also forgot to mention that the die-hard fans should wait after the credits for a special treat!

David Weaver said...

Oh, well I only saw the fourth film once and I only remembered the girl and never watched the dvd/blu-ray so I missed any of that extra stuff. And yeah, if didn't mention the thing after the credits because honestly that was pretty stupid.

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