Let’s get the formalities out of the way. Though totally incidental, Fast Five does have a plot of sorts and I would be remiss not to rattle it off. After surviving a prison break that feels more like a sloppily passive-aggressive attempt at murder/suicide than a rescue, Dom (Vin Diesel), alongside Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) seeks to reestablish himself with a simple train robbery. Nothing, it seems, is easy for Dom and company as the job turns out to be a setup. Now, with a maverick FBI agent hot on their heels, our protagonists head to Rio de Janeiro to pay back the man that did them wrong.

Believe it or not, the Fast and Furious franchise is now in its tenth year of existence. The first film is now so dated that it scarcely functions as anything other than a pre-9/11 time capsule, a look at what was cool end edgy before culture was turned on its head. What’s more discouraging is that the last film in the series, the appropriately titled Fast and Furious, is a hopelessly dull exercise in sequelization. No amount of noise or smashing could change the fact that that the fourth film in the series is painfully boring. So it is all the more inexplicable that Fast Five barrels headlong into a place of absolutely euphoric stupidity, its mouth agape and arms flailing. The film is near moronic nirvana. The principle reason for this, the thing that places Fast Five head and shoulders above the other entries in the series is the addition of federal agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

When The Rock left World Wrestling Entertainment for Hollywood, wrestling fans like myself were crestfallen but the prospect of Johnson bringing the charisma that made him an icon to the big screen was nothing short of tantalizing. Many will remember the opening scene of 2003’s The Rundown. Johnson’s character enters a nightclub and is passed by an exiting Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former governor smiles at the former wrester and says, “Have fun”. The Rock’s invitation to Action Movie Godhood was signed, sealed and delivered by the Terminator himself but somehow the next seven years of his career would be riddled with remakes, kids movies and remakes of kids movies. Now, however, after seeing what Johnson does as Hobbs in Fast Five, I’m tempted to believe that he’s been spending the better part of the last decade in some sort of hibernation; saving energy for this role. I’ll not paint a false picture of the film. Fast Five doesn’t star Dwayne Johnson. It just ought to. Hobbs is everything an action hero ought to be. He’s brash, violent and quick-witted. He biceps are nearly as greasy and shiny as they are pornographically large. He drops macho one liners (Which I wont spoil) like no character has in quite a while. Johnson totally overshadows the rest of the acceptably game cast. Vin Diesel growling, stoic performance is satisfactory. Paul Walker scrambles through the film with the same vacant, wide-eyed stare that he’s employed for virtually his whole career.

Thankfully, when Johnson isn’t around light things up, the direction of Justin Lin and the sublimely juvenile script carries the load nicely. Self-congratulatory dialogue, homoeroticism, sexism. The silly genre staples are all here but it is apparent that there is more here than meets the eye. Fast Five didn’t just stumble into becoming a popcorn classic with dumb luck. Yes, the film is stupid but it never feels ignorant. The film trusts that it and the audience are on the same page. It never takes its self or its characters too seriously and, perhaps most importantly, never breaks its back to wink at the audience. Director Justin Lin, who’s helmed the last three films in the series, delivers some of his best work. Unlike many of his action director peers, Lin does not rely on tiresome shaky-cam techniques. Instead, Lin presents a crisp, steady and clear view of the action and actors on screen amidst the chaos. Outside of the FaF series, Lin has also directed several episodes of NBC’s Community, one of the smartest and funniest shows on television. When the film slows down and the cars aren’t crashing, Lin knows just how to handle its spot-on goofiness.

Though Fast Five is sure to please any hankering for good old fashioned sub-mental cinema, diehard Fast and Furious fans may come away disappointed. Days before the release of Fast Five, word broke that Universal intended to take the franchise in a new direction, shifting the focus from street racing to heists. That is not to say that the series no longer relies on cars. As much as any other film in the series, Fast Five relies heavily on obscenely shiny automobiles. Have no fear. Cars still zoom around corners, endanger innocent bystanders and ignore the laws of physics in a manner that could be described as “aggressive.”

After the disappointingly mundane movie season that was the summer of 2010, Fast Five comes as a welcome shot in the arm, a reminder of what junkfood film ought to be.

 


Instantly watch from thousands of TV episodes & movies streaming from Netflix. Try Netflix for FREE!