(by Dustin Putman
Who could have guessed that when "The Fast and the Furious," an intermittently diverting piece of macho fluff, was released in 2001, there would be four sequels within ten years' time? All of the awkwardly-titled past films—including 2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious," 2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," and 2009's "Fast & Furious"—were dumb as a box of nails, but most of them were relatively harmless as long as there were some high-speed pursuits and car-crushing action just around the corner. With "Fast Five," gone are the days of quaint street racing competitions and the occasional truck hijacking. That dumb blond Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) was ever once an undercover LAPD officer (in the first film), then someone who helped Customs to clear his name (in the first sequel), and then an FBI agent (in the previous entry) is so far in the rear-view mirror that he might as well be a different person. The characters in these movies were always lacking strong moral compasses and dealing in illegal activities, but now, in "Fast Five," just about every last one of them is a ruthless criminal and/or escaped convict who deserves to be put behind bars. They selfishly do whatever it takes to get ahead, and if that consists of savagely pumping people full of lead, stealing $100-million, and endangering the lives of an entire city, well, so be it. Despite the title, the film is simply not fast enough to make one forget how mean-spirited and downright icky it truly is. Positioning these murderous thieves—who, it must be mentioned, are about to welcome a baby into the family—as wise-cracking, faux-lovable heroes worthy of being rooted for is thoroughly irresponsible and more than a little unsettling. Article continues below
Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been sentenced to 25 years to life without the possibility of early parole, but he hasn't even reached the prison before he is broken free from the transport bus by Brian and Dom's sister/Brian's girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster). About the violent bus crash, a news reporter reassures that there were amazingly no fatalities, though why this shred of exposition was needed when there are going to be plenty of mangled bodies by the end is anyone's guess. Hiding out in Rio de Janeiro, Mia grapples with telling Brian that she's preggers as they accept a new job from old friend Vince (Matt Schulze) of swiping several high-priced cars from a carrier train. Rejoined by Dom in the midst of this job, they manage to narrowly escape with the most valuable of the automobiles while claiming the lives of three DEA agents who were also onboard. With badass Federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and officer Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) hot on their trail and Rio's drug trafficking overlord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) also closing in, Dom, Brian and Mia learn from a computer chip planted in Reyes' stolen car of the corrupt businessman's dirty dealings and hefty loot. Putting together a crackerjack team of past acquaintances—among them, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), Gisele (Gal Gadot), and Han (Sung Kang)—the gang set about planning a heist that will, as Dom puts it, "buy our freedom."
At an overbearing 130 minutes, "Fast Five" runs twenty-five minutes longer than all the previous installments and, with a drug-out second act and no less than six endings, feels about twice the length. Trading in the franchise's usual candy-coated metallic sheen for a gritty, brownish hue—in a far cry from the brightly-lit beauty of the recent animated release "Rio," Rio de Janeiro is made to look like a crime-fueled slum here—cinematographer Stephen F. Windon (2005's "House of Wax") pays no favors to his exotic setting. The ugly look extends to the picture itself, which has been drained of whatever energy the series might have once held. Equipped with a dopey screenplay by Chris Morgan (2008's "Wanted") full of laughable male posturing, scantily-clad female beanpoles, asinine heart-to-hearts, and flat one-liners, returning director Justin Lin (he also made "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" and "Fast & Furious") has lost all sight of what these movies should be above all else: fun. With the exception of the train set-piece in the first act and the road-raging climactic heist, Lin can barely be bothered with car-centric action sequences at all. A drag race in police cars hints at calling back the high-powered charms of yesteryear, but it anticlimactically cuts out of it after about thirty seconds.
Indeed, for an almost 90-minute section in the middle, the movie stops dead in its tracks, going on and on and on some more as the one-note characters, most of them "Ocean's Eleven" rejects, stand around trading barbs when they're not moping about. They look like they have no script at all most of the time, and are simply being filmed as they wait for the next scene's pages. When Dom yells at a hot-headed Brian to "walk it off" or Mia says for the umpteenth time, "I have something I want to tell you," before she is inevitably interrupted, they are simultaneously worth an unintentional laugh and roughly as heady as the dialogue ever gets.
Whatever good will Vin Diesel (2008's "Babylon A.D.") racked up in his past outings as Dom Toretto has officially expired this time. In a decade, this character has not grown, developed, soul-searched, or faced any detectable arc. If anything, he's only gotten more dangerous and cavalier about his criminal mischief. Diesel is easy on the eyes, but there is no depth to anything he does, acting out each scene—even ones where he has conversations with others—as if he's the only one on screen. As scumbag protagonist Brian O'Conner, who seems to have no guilty conscience over all the terrible things he's done, Paul Walker (2006's "Running Scared") is earnest but bland. The usually gorgeous Jordana Brewster (2006's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning") is promoted slightly above window-dressing as Mia, but her work is overshadowed by her alarming physical appearance, gaunt, emaciated, and far more brittle-looking than when we last saw her. When Brewster leaps off a roof at one point, you half expect her to break into pieces. Thank goodness for stunt people. Series newcomer Dwayne Johnson (2010's "Faster") is disconcerting in his own way, so pumped up he looks like he could take out a small neighborhood block with one finger. As Hobbs, an authority figure who also takes the law with a grain of salt, Johnson's most notable contributions are his well-oiled, constantly glistening muscles.
"The family just got bigger!" Dom cheerfully exclaims upon hearing the news that his sister is have a baby—a sister, by the way, who has abandoned her old life in Los Angeles and committed untold crimes just to save his immature, unaccountable ass. His happy, welcoming reaction to the news is chilling, the thought of the lot of them raising a child just another reason to despise them all. If the viewer is expecting anything even approaching the level of go-for-broke tension and awe-inspiring showmanship found in the opening moments of "Fast & Furious," which depicted a nearly disastrous truck hijacking on a steep, perilous mountain road, think again. The only fleeting pleasures come from a plummet off a bridge and a coda during the end credits that introduces another old series cast member while providing a crafty revelation about a ghost from the past. Otherwise, keep walking. Bloated, haphazardly paced, and reckless in more ways than just behind the wheel of a souped-up speed machine, "Fast Five" is a faint shadow of what it once was, now detailing the exploits of virtual terrorists hell-bent on mass destruction in the name of getting rich. Sure, it's supposed to just be a silly popcorn movie, but treating these cardboard cutouts as people to admire and care about is dishonest and contemptible. That the movie sucks besides is the final insult.