Monday, May 16, 2011


As the fourth sequel in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise, "Five Fast" (***1/2 out of ****) combines elements of a Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" epic as well as the George Clooney, Brad Pitt & Matt Damon "Ocean's Eleven" outings. Our high-octane protagonists have fled south to Rio de Janeiro. They plan to steal a fortune in cold cash from Brazil’s most dangerous man because he framed them for murder. Swift, swerving, snappy reflex driving constitutes an integral part of this careening carefree narrative. Mind you, the larger-than-life heist and the way our heroes not only prepare but also pull it off absorbs about half of the film’s brisk 130 minutes. Justin Lin and his three-time “Fast and Furious” collaborator scenarist Chris Morgan have raised the stakes again so they can top “Fast & Furious” and they’ve done a splendid job of topping the previous epic. When Dominic Toretto and Brian O‘Conner aren’t tangling with murderous Brazilian thugs, they must contend with an incorruptible good guy. Tenacious Federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson of “Doom“) vows to hunt them down and apprehend them and he never quits. Literally, our heroes are between a ‘Rock’ and a hard place!

“The Fast and the Furious” franchise has evolved over the last decade from illegal street racing done in conjunction with some crime. Initially, the speeders hijacked eighteen-wheelers for their loads. Since “Fast & Furious,” they have involved themselves in bigger crimes. The life & death heist here is as outlandish as it is audacious. Indeed, “Fast Five” surpasses “Fast & Furious” for no other reason than its final 30 minutes overshadows everything before it. No, Toretto and O’Connor couldn’t have gotten away with their ambitious scheme in real life any more than they could navigate those tunnels without accident in “Fast & Furious.” Nevertheless, Lin and Morgan make their strenuous efforts look like a lot of fun, something that the tunnel racing sequences lacked.

“Fast Five” opens where “Fast & Furious” ended. Dominic ‘Dom’ Toretto (Vin Diesel of “xXx”) has been sentenced to 25 years in Lompoc prison. Former FBI agent Paul O’Connor (Paul Walker of “Into the Blue”) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster of “Annapolis”) along with another driver wreck the prison bus in route so Dom can escape. Incredibly, nobody is hurt in the accident. The opening gambit in the previous movie “Fast & Furious” was so good it made the rest of it appear anti-climactic, but this isn’t the case in “Fast Five.” The idea of a convict escaping in a moving prison bus was done better in the Jean-Claude Van Damme escapade “Nowhere to Run.” Nevertheless, by not showing what actually happened when the bus flipped, the filmmakers probably saved a bundle on eliminating the aftermath of the crash. Make no mistake, Lin and Morgan top themselves in “Fast Five.”

Once O’Connor and Mia have Dom sprung, they are approached by Dom’s childhood friend Vince (Matt Schulze of “Blade 2”) about a railroad heist where they will steal some sports cars. This heist is more like the opening gambit in “Fast & Furious.” A wrecker cruises up alongside a train and the thieves cut an oblong hole in the freight car containing the vehicles. They propel the cars sideways out onto the wrecker’s ramp and then lower the ramp so the drivers can back down off it and peel away in a cloud of dust. Of course, nothing can go smoothly in a heist movie. Our heroes discover that the DEA have impounded the cars and their native gun-toting accomplices refuse to let the DEA thwart them. The Brazilian gunmen kill the DEA agents without a qualm, while our heroes are incriminated for the killings. Dom helps O’Connor get off the train, but Dom plummets his convertible into a river.

The Feds dispatch Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson of “Faster”) to capture Toretto and O’Connor. Meanwhile, Dom concocts an incredible plan to take over a $100-million from the man whose killers gunned down the DEA agents. In South America, crooked entrepreneur Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almedia of “Desperado”) rules the country. Reyes gets whatever he demands. Our heroes find a computer chip in a sports cars that contains a treasure-trove of information about all of Reye’s cash stashes. Dom urges them to pull ‘one last job’ and rob Reyes blind. Our protagonists assemble a racing team that includes O’Connor’s childhood friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson of “2 Fast 2 Furious”), Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges of “2 Fast 2 Furious”), Han Lue (Sung Kang of “Tokyo Drift”), former Israeli intelligence agent Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot of “Fast & Furious”), and a couple of others. Dom and company strike the first of Reye’s safe houses. Reye’s men watch in horror as our heroes burn the money. Immediately, Reye relocates his fortune to the downtown police station. He locks it up in a vault that can only be opened with his hand print. If you’ve seen the trailer for “Fast Five,” you know they steal the entire vault and then drag it like a wrecking ball through town so the finale looks like a demolition derby.

Ultimately, “Fast Five” is about having a good time. Again, the heroes are the underdogs, while the villains are thoroughly treacherous. The Rock shows up as a good guy caught in the middle. He is wants to capture our heroes because they are his quarry. Of course, the fast driving scenes thrive on adrenalin-pacing. The numerous gunfights, however, lack the spontaneity that somebody, like gifted British director Paul Greengrass brought to the last two “Bourne” thrillers and “Green Zone” with Matt Damon. Naturally, the Brazilian scenery is fabulous, and “Fast Five” serves as a travelogue when Lin and Morgan aren’t wrapping expository scenes about the heist around our ears. Like most energetic big, dumb action films, “Fast Five” packs several surprises that change everything and make you yearn for a fifth sequel. Be advised, don’t leave the theater until the entire end credits roll, you’re definitely in for a surprise. “Fast Five” reunites virtually everybody and then some who have survived all previous epics.