With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson. Directed by Justin Lin. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language. 130 minutes.
When the credits started rolling and it noted one of the production companies is called “Original Pictures,” skeptics openly hooted. FAST FIVE is the fifth entry in one of the more dimwitted movie series around, commencing with “The Fast and the Furious” back in 2001. However, there was a different sort of hooting by film’s end. There’s no deep message here, but as an entertaining action flick, this is the most fun at the movies since last summer’s “The Expendables.” The final car chase – no spoilers here – is a true original of a form that has been done many, many times.
Once again Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is plotting a big crime that involves fast cars. This time the action is in Rio de Janeiro, and in case you’re not clear on that we see the gigantic Jesus statue several times during the film. His onetime pursuer and now friend, ex-cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), is there to help along with his girlfriend – and Dom’s sister – Mia (Jordana Brewster). The movie also brings back Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) who appeared in the sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious” and Han (Sung Kang) who was in the other two sequels.
If these characters have the advantage of familiarity, it is the addition of a new character who makes the film. Dwayne Johnson, who is arguably the best new action star of the past decade, is Agent Hobbs, sent to Brazil to extradite Dom and Brian. So as they plan to rob local crime kingpin Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), they also have to stay out of the clutches of the law.
There are two solid chase scenes early in the film. One involves stealing cars off a moving train in a sequence that is so ridiculous that the warning at the end of the film that this was all done with stuntmen under controlled conditions seems almost beside the point. (But then given people who still claim President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, you can’t underestimate the intelligence of the general public.) Then there’s a chase scene on foot in which Dom, Brian and Mia have to elude both Reyes’ criminal gang and Hobbs’ law enforcement team. Both chases are well-executed, but we’re just being set up for the finale.
At 130 minutes, there’s a lot of filler in the middle as they spend much time preparing for the big heist, including doing a number of things which prove to be beside the point. Of course, knowing which things are important and which are red herrings is part of the set up. To make up for it, there’s a great fistfight between Dom and Hobbs in which you almost expect them to challenge each other as to which action star made the more absurd family movie, “The Pacifier” (Diesel) or “The Tooth Fairy” (Johnson).
Finally, we get to the grand finale which sets new standards both for its audacity and sheer destructiveness. One hopes that at least some of what is shown is extremely clever CGI effects. Then stick around for the closing credits for a scene that suggests that they’re already thinking about what to do for film six. Director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan were responsible for the last two sequels but nothing suggested they were capable of this quantum leap. “Fast Five” is still a “check your brains at the door” action entry, but as a thrill ride it, sets the high bar for the summer’s releases.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.