Fast Five Review

Maybe I was a pretentious film geek teenager, but when The Fast and the the Furious came out there was a very clear population within my social circle that I loathed because they considered the film car culture’s gift to cinema. That just wasn’t the case. It was an enjoyable action flick, yes, but it’s insistence on Paul Walker sitting front and center meant it was a poorly acted movie where the only saving grace was some fancy automotive stunt work. To the film’s credit, the stunts made up the majority of the film. Four sequels later and that’s harder to say about the franchise. It still boasts some great driving and slick cars, but Director Justin Lin and his cast have made it clear the franchise has switched gears with Fast Five, kicking up from simple motorhead indulgence to car-oriented heists. It turns out it’s a brilliant move because Fast Five comes like a breath of fresh air after a stale fourth film and only serviceable third.

Fresh off the events of Fast & Furious, Fast Five sees Dominic’s commute in a prison bus interrupted by a crash that sees him as the only missing passenger when the dust settles. Fast forward a bit and he, Brian, and Mia are robbing a train carrying cars impounded by the government. Sensing the deal might not be entirely in their favor, they slip away with one of the cars which yields a GPS chip giving them access to the drug routes of a huge cartel run by Herman Reyes. To get one last big score, they decide to rob him at his super-protected storage house, but to do so they realize they’ll need lots of help and so they call in a bunch of their old friends including Han (Sung Kang), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Tej (Ludacris), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson). As they put their plans into effect they have to elude US agents, led by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), hot on their trail and eager to bring the fugitive Dom and whoever associates with him back to the states.

When Paul Walker was one of the three of the series’ main characters, there was a major problem, because while it’s easy to understand visually why a director would want him on the screen, once he opens his mouth his appeal as a leading man goes out the window. And anyone who’s ridden in a fast-moving car can tell you that when something goes out of a window of something moving at fast speeds, it’s not coming back and it takes quite a turn around and a bit of time to go back and get it. The point being, the franchise officially outgrew Paul Walker with the third film when it moved to Tokyo and put a new, much more talented Lucas Black in his place. Shifting back to focus on Walker in the fourth film may have allowed them to draw Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster back into the fold, but that’s quite a price to pay.

Luckily, Fast Five doesn’t let the weight of the film rest on Walker’s shoulders too much for too long. After establishing that the trio is in Brazil and they need to pull off a big heist to let them run free, the cast expands immediately to accommodate familiar faces from the past films and suddenly Fast Five is an ensemble piece. In fact, assuming the Fast and Furious franchise continues down this road, it has just become the next generation’s Ocean’s 11 series but on nitrous-fueled, sexualized wheels. Frankly, it’s hard to be upset about that, because save for Walker, there’s only one other really weak link in that group: Tyrese Gibson, whose lines fall like concrete with a deafening bang. If it weren’t for Gibson, the supporting members of the Fast Five cast would stand as one of the most impressive and international casts out there. Ludacris, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon, and Don Omar round out the group, with only the first three having any substantial time to develop, but it’s enough to make the heist team’s moments more than just the Walker, Diesel, and Brewster Show.

The shows visuals, the stunts in particular, average towards jaw-dropping and when the film reaches its final scene where two Mustangs tow a huge steel safe through the streets of Rio, knowing that it was actually filmed exactly how it looks means the visuals are just spectacular. No green screens here, folks. It’s a great looking film that Director Justin Lin can be proud of, and it could very easily be the best in the series yet.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The combo set includes Fast Five on Blu-ray, DVD, and as a Digital Copy. Unfortunately, as has become an irritating trend with Blu-rays, many of the behind-the-scenes featurettes come up only as part of the “second screen” function that requires you to tether to your Blu-ray player a computer or tablet that then acts as a detached picture-in-picture where production videos play as you watch the movie. It’s not a well thought out system assuming your watching the movie for the first time, but otherwise it’s just not as convenient as a little box in the corner where the Director and cast can talk to you.

As for extras that are actually on the disc, there are a fair number of Blu-ray exclusives including a highlight of reuniting the cast and a great inside look at the filming of the train heist. Another fun piece is the fight choreography for the big showdown between Diesel and Johnson at the crew’s Rio headquarters. Finally, the crème de la crème and the reason films with practical and real stunts are so cool, they’ve included a look at the filming of the giant vault chase scene. If ever there was an argument for doing away with CGI to film great action sequences, it’s stuff like this. The last exclusive has Justin Lin giving the audience a walk through the set.

The extras that also appear on the DVD version of the release include a gag reel, deleted scenes, a little feature showing how Dom gets from one place to the next, profiles on Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson’s characters, and an audio commentary with Lin, which is worth the time if you’ve got it.

"Fast Five" is on sale October 4, 2011 and is rated PG13. Action. Directed by Justin Lin. Written by Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Elsa Pataky, Joaquim De Almeida, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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