Buckle up for another 'Fast' ride

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2011

"Fast Five"

Ap Photo/Universal Pictures, Jaimie Trueblood
Ap Photo/Universal Pictures, Jaimie Trueblood
In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Vin Diesel, and Paul Walker are shown in a scene from "Fast Five."

Dark Side Productions

2 hours, 10 minutes

"Fast Five?" Really? Have there been five of these movies already? It seems like just yesterday that I was grousing about what a dumb movie the original was, while secretly being jealous that I didn't have a nitrous-oxide jet engine in my car. Of course, now I drive a Prius, so something like that might play hell with my gas mileage.

When the first "Fast and Furious" movie came out, I remember predicting that it would find its success on basic cable, a popular midnight movie for guys. I was right, but I didn't foresee the staying power of the series. What I didn't get, though someone did and is making a whole lotta money on, is the fact that the movies don't have to be good. They just have to not be bad.

Vin Diesel is back as Dominic Toretto, glowering uber-driver who has once again escaped from prison in order to lead his "family" of illegal street racers in their lives of crime. But he's the good guy. He and Paul Walker, who returns as Brian O'Conner, ex-FBI agent and super speedster. After the dramatic escape they engineer for Dom, Brian and Dom's sister, Mia, hotfoot it down to Rio de Janeiro to hide out.

We know we're in Rio because we're treated to at least five scenic fly-overs of the giant statue of Jesus that the city is known for. The first couple of times I thought, "Oh, that's neat," but after a while even the colossally impressive gets old.

Once they arrive at their safe location, Brian and Mia decide, why not, let's take on an easy job while we wait for the heat to die down and for Dom to arrive. This "easy" job involves stealing three super-sleek sports cars from a moving train using a kind of all-terrain, balloon tires, lift and slide car-carrier. Naturally, things go awry, and our heroes, Dom now included, end up on the wrong side of a vicious drug dealer who essentially runs Rio.

Of course, for these guys, being on the wrong side just means more opportunities to zoom around in shiny little cars and perpetrate as much mayhem as possible. To that end, Dom and Brian decide that a major heist is in order, and as such, gather together most of the principals from the previous four films, creating a situation that's about as fast and furious as it can possibly get. Oh, and if all that weren't enough, all the good guys are being chased by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, looking meaner and angrier than he has since ... I don't know, at least since "The Tooth Fairy."

With all the dominoes set, all the director has to do is tip them over to set in motion the fastest, most furious caper Brazil has ever seen!

What can be said about these movies that hasn't been said before? Actually, though I enjoyed the movie, I was a little disappointed, considering that it's been getting glowing reviews.

The reaction smacks of a large portion of film critics who assumed the movie was going to suck. When it didn't, they were amazed. I didn't think it would suck. By this time, the formula's pretty well down. "Fast Five," and it's predecessors, to a greater or lesser extent, manage to do what Michael Bay, with all his money and giant transforming robots can't: leave the audience happier than when they arrived. For all the explosions and shoot-outs, these movies are fun and don't take themselves too seriously.

Is the acting any good? No. Paul Walker is an adequate performer, and Dwayne Johnson is surprisingly good, considering his background. But neither brings their A-game to this movie. Vin Diesel is as good as he ever is, his slow-burn style likely masking an inability to keep up with such a delicately constructed plot.

The writing, as well, is sub-par. But the action is top-notch, even the parts that don't make any sense.

Actually, very little of it makes sense, but it's all fun to watch. The street-racing has been severely downplayed in this outing, to make room for all the heist elements. That's not to say that there aren't at least a dozen car chases, just that the esoterica of the racing world is left to the previous films. There are car chases aplenty, including the climactic one that, while I won't spoil it, contains one of the most ludicrous action set pieces since Keanu Reeves jumped the bus in "Speed." But boy, did it look cool.

Most of these films, (I'll have to guess on the Tokyo one -- I skipped it) have maintained just that minimal level of quality that allows them to be enjoyable without leaving you feeling either dirty or dumb. You get that they don't make any sense and don't represent reality in any shape of the word. But they are fun, and sometimes that's enough.

With that in mind, I shouldn't be surprised that they're already ramping up a "Fast Six." At this rate, Vin Diesel can just keep driving forever.

Grade: C+

"Fast Five" is rated PG-13 for intense action violence, intense car mayhem, brief strong language, and Vin Diesel's smoldering glare.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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