I love the naming scheme in this series. The first film, called The Fast and the Furious (2001), never lets us know who’s fast and who’s furious, while its sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) proves too fast, too furious for proper spelling. Then comes The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), breaking Asian stereotypes by featuring neither numbers nor grammatical mistakes, followed by Fast and Furious (2009), evidently too fast for determiners but not as fast as this latest entry, which turns out too fast to be furious. Incidentally, the trailer for Fast Five shows eight people walking in slow motion. You can’t make that stuff up.
Still, I dig what Justin Lin’s done with the last three flicks. Given his thoughtful cinematic debut, Better Luck Tomorrow (2002), one might have expected the director to move away from the series’ adolescent excesses about sticking it to the man, yeah! Instead, he’s made them more palatable by creating a modern pirate fantasy. Our heroes no longer boost cars from hard-working Americans. They travel the world and loot larger vehicles owned by corrupt traders. Think of it as the new adventures of Jack Sparrow but with traffic lights and hot women in skimpy outfits and men with huge, sweaty muscles and engines that go, “vroom-vroom-vroom,” and Paul Walker still can’t act.
Easily the best in the series, Fast Five focuses on a single heist in Rio de Janeiro. After their family gets double-crossed by a crime lord played by the bad guy in Desperado (1995) as, uh, the bad guy in Desperado (Joaquim de Almeida), Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) call on old friends to even the score. Their crew includes Mia (Jordana Brewster) from The Fast and the Furious, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift, and Gisele (Gal Gadot) from Fast and Furious. The latter two get a romantic subplot, which is kind of neat, given Asian males are so rarely depicted as sensual beings, let alone desirable ones.
Moreover, Han comes across as smart, cool, and sexy. I want to be that guy, which I consider a landmark of sorts, seeing as no one ever wants to be the Asian dude in a Hollywood picture. There’s something unappealing about the role of racist corner store owner or illegal immigrant so devoid of initiative he’d rather die in a pool of his own excrement than, say, open the door on his own. Yes, I’m mocking Crash (2004), the most racist movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar for denouncing racism.
Anyway, the Fast and Sometimes Furious franchise has always stood out for its equal opportunity casting and strong sense of camaraderie. Fast Five proves no exception. Its only street race, a friendly contest between the series’ most iconic characters, displays nearly every colour in the ethnological rainbow: black, white, Asian, and whatever the hell Vin Diesel is. If you feel someone’s missing, stay during the credits for a soapy cliffhanger I’ve been anticipating since the fourth instalment.
The movie also introduces us to a DSS squad led by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), whose biceps have the shape and size of Diesel’s head. The man’s so hardcore he keeps a straight face while delivering lines like, “You know I like my dessert first,” followed by, “Now give me the veggies!” Of the new cast members, only Hobbs and his Brazilian liaison, Elena (Elsa Pataky), get decent screen time, but the other characters show enough charisma and personality that I thought we might get a spinoff.
In this story, though, Hobbs’ crew plays the crucial role of moral compass, since, to a certain extent, our heroes deserve whatever they get. Contorting in ways that could put Cirque du Soleil to shame, the dialogue informs us civilians somehow never get hurt, but really the sole reason we root for the reckless criminals is we’ve known them for years. The DSS agents, on the other hand, get our respect because of their honest mission. This creates genuine tension, and we almost feel robbed when the two teams inevitably find a common enemy.
I use the word “almost” because the resulting set piece, around which the entire film is built, fires on all cylinders, prerequisite reciprocating engine pun intended. Reaching new levels of insanity (or perhaps inanity), Fast Five has our heroes dragging a government vault across the streets of Rio and wielding it as a weapon to take down dirty cops. The very notion stretches suspension of disbelief to its breaking point, but Lin shoots the sequence with both skill and panache, rejecting the recent trend toward shaky cam and CGI stunts in favour of good old-fashioned spectacle. I was practically drooling.
Of course, the scene does raise some questions. How can two sedans pull an object fifteen times their collective weight without a gravity nullifier, adamantium cables, or tires made out of Flubber? Why doesn’t the giant steel safe leave marks on the pavement? Why is Rio de Janeiro, famous for its uneven terrain, suddenly so flat? Why is there no traffic? Why are only corrupt officers in pursuit? Why do they bother with a deadly car chase when they could follow the thieves in a helicopter?
The answer: because it’s awesome.