The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Fast Five
Hey, isn't this supposed to be a movie about cars?

Here's the obligatory franchise recap: The Fast and the Furious: Lots of fun. I liked it. 2 Fast 2 Furious: Great car stunts. Otherwise, blah. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: Ditto. Fast & Furious: Loud and annoying. I actively hated it. This brings us to Fast Five, which is like being savagely beaten for two hours and ten minutes by the staff at Advance Auto Parts. Yes, this thing is 130 freakin' minutes long!

The fifth entry picks up exactly where the fourth one left off, with Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) helping Dom (Vin Diesel) escape jail by causing the prison bus on which he's riding to have a spectacular crash. (Good plan, morons!) The trio escapes to Rio de Janeiro, where they decide to rob the biggest drug lord they can find and then retire for good. Doing so requires assembling a team; in this case, the team consists of characters from all the previous movies, including those portrayed by Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, and Sung Kang. They intend to break into the safe where the drug lord keeps all his money. Not so conveniently, it's stored in the evidence room of the local police station. Meanwhile, a federal agent named Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on the hunt to bring Dom, Brian, and Mia to justice.

There's one thing we need to get out of the way right now: Fast Five is the latest example of what I call "visceral cinema." Its primary concern is bombarding the audience with an endless series of stunts and action sequences, with plot and character development pushed into the background. Some people like this kind of thing (other examples are G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Transformers 2, and Battle: Los Angeles), and that's fine. More power to you if you're one of those people. I, on the other hand, do not like this sort of thing. Wall-to-wall action and stunts are great, provided that they serve some larger purpose and are not the sole reason for a movie's existence. The first F&F movie had amazing stunts and car sequences that accentuated a look inside the culture of underground street racing; the most recent two have turned into big, loud action movies with as many shootouts and fistfights as races.

Much of my frustration with Fast Five comes from the fact that the series did drift so far away from what I initially liked about it. Watching people race tricked-out sports cars through city streets while eluding the cops was fun. No one else was doing that. The train wrecks, bank heists, and armed ambushes depicted here are found in action movies all the time. The thing that was special has evolved into the thing that is common. There's a moment in the film when Dom and Brian need to get their hands on a souped-up car. They head to a certain part of Rio, where a challenge is issued to a local star racer. And then, the film never even shows us the race! Kind of odd for a series that was originally all about racing. Fast Five additionally brings back a lot of characters from the second, third, and fourth installments. Since I didn't care for those installments, I wasn't especially glad to see these folks turn back up.

So while personal taste accounts for much of my dislike, I also want to put forth the suggestion that Fast Five is a bad film. If you can think of an action movie cliché, this picture probably has it. There's the whole "getting the team together" montage. One supporting character initially seems good, then does something to make the others suspect that he's crooked, then comes back at a key moment to redeem himself; this bit ends in a predictable way as well. You've got the requisite female cop who suspects that Dom is not really a criminal. (Do I smell a possible physical attraction here as well?) And if you predicted that adversaries Dom and Hobbs have to join forces at some point, you are 100% correct. Everything that happens has been ripped out of a thousand other movies.

I won't even go into the story's massive logic problems - such as the sequence in which Dom and Brian improbably tie a massive bank vault to their cars and drag it through the city - because that's really beside the point. That sort of silliness is fine and dandy, provided the film is working for you at some level; in this case, it wasn't working for me. My question, Reader, is this: Do you just want to see a 130-minute montage of crashing, fighting, shooting, and explosions, or do you want to see those things put into some sort of context that engages your mind at least a little? If you choose the former, I can pretty much guarantee you will love Fast Five. And again, more power to you. Nothing wrong with that. But if you choose the latter, then you're in the car with me, and I think Fast Five has a trunk full of lame.

( 1/2 out of four)

Fast Five is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.