We’ve seen some pretty epic match-ups in the history of cinema: De Niro and Pacino in Heat. Stewart and McKellen in X-Men. Taylor and Burton in Cleopatra. Now we have a new tag team of terrificness to add to that list, with the pairing of Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in Fast 5: or Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist to give it its full kennel name. It’s a film so complex, so layered with subtlety and intense emotional heft (not to mention steroid-addled meat monsters and shiny, noisy Japanese hatchbacks) that they felt it necessary to give The Rock a goatee beard; though this is probably more of a practical decision so you can tell him apart from Vin Diesel during the fight scenes than anything else.
OK, so it’s not the smartest movie that’s been released this year. Or the funniest. Or the most expensive/interesting/complex/realistic/fantastic/exciting/novel/dramatic. But it is a bit of most of those things, and more of all of them than any other action film so far this year (and definitely better than The Expendables). Fast 5 knows what it is, and is utterly unashamed of it: few, if any, franchises these days would even dare to remind viewers that they’re watching the same formula (cut-price Arnie races impractical and lurid phallic symbols in a straight line whilst pulling off cut-price Ocean’s Eleven crimes in his spare time) for the fifth time. This film wears its heritage like a badge of honour, throwing out all the same plot elements with gleeful abandon, and almost convincing you that moving the whole thing to Rio was a plot, rather than a budget, decision.
The story, such as it is, goes that cop-turned-crook Paul Walker, crook-turned-fugitive Vin Diesel and eye candy-turned-emotional-investment Jordana Brewster are all on the run from the law, and end up in the favelas of Rio (as the multiple helicopter shots of the statue of Christ take pains to remind us, in some of the film’s more subtle, nuanced direction). As ever, the only way out of their current pickle is the same simple, 3-step solution:
- Steal a bunch of incredibly-expensive cars
- Problems solved
The fact that no explanation is ever given as to how they’re going to conceal or safeguard several of the world’s most expensive automobiles in a Brazilian slum, never mind how they’re going to sell them without getting caught, is just another fine example of the level of plot depth we’re dealing with.
In this first action sequence, FaF5:RH Jumps the shark so quickly and so fiercely that you’re left with little choice except to go along for the increasingly stupid ride. It’s essentially a litmus test for the rest of the film, with a ‘simple job’ so needlessly complex, hilariously unrealistic, impossibly impractical and almost entirely pointless that either your brain will shut down as a defence mechanism (and coincidentally enable you to enjoy the film a lot more) or you’ll be forced to leave the cinema in disgust.
From here, things only get more cliché/awesome, as the plot plays out like a Frankenstein’s monster of every great 80s action movie. Diesel et al. decide they need to pull off ‘one last job’ before they all definitely retire, for real this time, no honest, they totally mean it. This involves ripping off crime kingpin Reyes of all his money, which in turn requires ‘putting a team together’, and rolls downhill into Stupidtown from there on in, with increasingly elaborate and fantastical plot revelations, silly gadgets and maguffins galore papering over cracks in the plot. By the time someone mentions ‘invisible cars’, I assumed it wasn’t a metaphor, and they were actually going to use a Bond-style invisible Aston Martin to pull off the job.
Mixed into all this preparation is FBI Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who has been tasked with tracking down the outlaws and bringing them back to the USA to face trial for the killing of three DEA agents (which, of course, they didn’t do). There can be no doubt that The Rock was brought in to be a breath of fresh air in this franchise, and it absolutely works: he’s given all the best lines, delivered with just the right amount of knowing grin, and provides an excellent foil for both Diesel and Walker’s characters as a no-nonsense, don’t-care-if-you’re-innocent manhunter. As soon as the posters went up for this film, everyone wanted to see Diesel and Johnson throw down, and I’m pleased to say that, shaky cam aside, the movie doesn’t disappoint in that area. He’s by far the best thing in it, possibly even to the point that when he’s not on screen, the whole film feels a bit flat.
Something that might piss off the FaF faithful (but something I was pretty happy about), is that they’ve also cut out almost all of the 1/4 mile drag racing nonsense that the franchise was ostensibly built around way back in 2001, slimming it down to a couple of sequences, one where they show the build up to the race, including the usual braggadocio, but then skip straight to the aftermath: whether this was another budget decision or simply a recognition that there’s only so many times you can show a straight-line race and even pretend that Vin Diesel might not win, it’s hard to tell.
Speaking of budget, it seems strange that this film appears to be on a slightly reduced one (around $70m), considering Fast and Furious stands out as the biggest money spinner of last year for Universal, bringing in more than $350m in worldwide sales. There are a lot fewer supercars on display, action sequences are, for the most part, more modest, and there’s a lot more standing around and talking than tearing around pulling stunts, but there is also a healthy amount of effects work (both practical and CGI), and overall they have managed to squeeze quite a lot out of limited funds. Since they have already announced a final sixth instalment (guess that wasn’t the last job after all), it’s possible this is just a penny-pinching exercise, so it will be interesting to see if they manage to return to the states for the last one, or whether we’ll find them doing The Fast and The Furious: Romanian Drift.
In conclusion, Fast 5 is what it is. If you don’t like huge, muscly blokes knocking lumps off each other and revving engines, this isn’t going to turn you around. However, if you do like that sort of thing, don’t mind a thrown-together plot and don’t have trouble suspending disbelief in the face of some physics-shaming nonsense, then this is a pretty enjoyable example of mindless action.
I’m willing to bet there’s a porn version out there somewhere called ‘The Fast and The Furriest’. No, I am not going to Google it