Fast Five (Movie Review)

3 & ½ out of 4 stars

For those seeking wall-to-wall testosterone, ‘Fast Five’ puts the pedal to the metal and never lets up.  By far the most accessible and exciting movie in the franchise to date, ‘Fast Five’ stuns with its jaw-dropping action,  iconic performances from Vin Diesel and The Rock, and a surprisingly streamlined and involving storyline. Undoubtedly, ‘Fast Five’ is the best all-out action movie of both 2010 and 2011 and a genuine genre classic.

The film begins with an explosive prologue that re-introduces the audience to rugged anti-hero Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), professional car thief and street racer. With the help of accomplice Brian O’ Connor (Paul Walker), an ex-policeman, and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), Toretto manages to escape from a maximum security prison van in an automobile raid and escape to Rio De Janeiro together to start a new life.

However, retirement doesn’t last long for the gang, as they are soon tempted by a local mobster Zizi to steal a convoy of three cars from a supply train.  In classic action movie style though, the heist takes a turn for the worse, as the train happens to be carrying DEA agents and the cars in question actually contain hidden data chips listing the location of all the mob’s hidden banks in Rio.  After taking the cars for themselves and barely escaping with their lives, Toretto and his gang find themselves being pursued by both crime lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) and a CIA team led by SWAT officer Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).

With no way out, the three decide to take the only option: revenge.  With the information in the chips, Toretto plans a major heist operation which will target all of Reyes’ banks within the city, which together contain a total of $100 million US.  To complete the job, the three assemble a team of the world’s best thieves and ciphers: including Han-Seoul Oh (Sung Kang), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej Parker (Ludacris).  With time running against them, the team must evade the pursuing forces of their predecessors as they put together the perfect trap which will bring them their freedom.

If there’s one surprising element of ‘Fast Five’, it’s the structure and content of its story.  In contrast to previous films in the series, which focused solely on underground street racing, ‘Fast Five’ is structured as a proper heist movie, with the protagonists’ driving skills being just one element of their dangerous profession. Consequently, this structure allows ‘Fast Five’ to have the most taut and gripping storyline of the entire series, never losing momentum as it rockets through its narrative stages of introducing the players, planning the heist, and then finally builds in tension to the glorious final caper. Indeed, the film almost bears a passing resemblance to Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi hit ‘Inception’ in this respect.

Of course, most of the target audience will be primarily focused on the film’s violent action, and with good reason. Filled from start to finish with all manner of truly spectacular shoot-outs, car chases, and brawls, ‘Fast Five’ just might be the most exhilarating action spectacle since the last 007 outing ‘Quantum of Solace’ in 2008.  In keeping with the story’s shift from mere car racing to full-on action antics, the diversity of the stunts and set pieces has been greatly expanded from past entries: in addition to the gravity defying train heist which opens the film, viewers will also be treated to a frantic foot chase across the rooftops of Rio’s favelas and a frenzied fist-to-fist brawl between Vin Diesel and the Rock that literally results in the destruction of an entire garage. As kinetic as these scenes are, they are arguably topped by the film’s final set piece: a monstrous car chase through the CBD of the city, featuring three cars, a legion of police helicopters, and one very large immovable object which arguably ranks among the greatest scenes in action movie history.

On the performance side, the A-list stars of the film have never been more comfortable and charismatic. As Dominic Toretto, Vin Diesel radiates lethal charm and danger, muttering one liners in a voice so gruff and deep that Sylvester Stallone would be envious. Even more successful is the Rock, who plays his SWAT character so deliberately over-the-top and aggressive that audiences will smirk each time he appears on screen. The supporting cast, including respected names such as Paul Walker and rapper Ludacris, also impress, with each performer bringing humour and a distinct personality to their roles despite limited screen time in some cases.

Technically, the film also impresses with particular credit deserved for the cinematography. Being set in Rio de Janeiro, the film’s foreign locale immediately lends it a sense of mystery and intrigue, which director Justin Lin fully exploits with magnificent wide angle and aerial shots of the city’s landscape. Additionally, the action scenes are filmed with precision and skill, with the camera always retaining a sense of movement and urgency without degenerating into a blur as in most action pictures. Finally, the electro-rock score by Brian Tyler also plays a key part in raising the film’s adrenaline quotient, featuring a pulsating mix of distorted guitars, dance rhythms, and orchestral flourishes to great effect.

Unquestionably, ‘Fast Five’ is one of the most viscerally exciting films in recent memory and a definite treat for action fans.  If anything, it’s proof that there’s still both life in the big, brash, summer blockbuster yet, as well as in the franchise itself.  Hopefully, Sylvester Stallone will study director Justin Lin’s achievements here in great detail before he begins production on ‘The Expendables 2’ this year.  It may not be high art, but judged on its own simple terms ‘Fast Five’ is truly an undisputed success.




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Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto and Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs in 'Fast Five'

‘Fast Five’ is currently showing in Shenzhen and Hong Kong theatres.

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