Movie Review – Fast Five (2011)

by HELEN GEIB

When Fast Five, the latest installment in the “Fast and the Furious” series, took in over $80 million in its end of April opening weekend, the predictable response from studio PR was that summer had arrived a week early. The real surprise is not that the movie had a smash opening, but that the “summer movie” tagline is accurate; five movies in and the current entry has the broadest popular appeal of any film in the series. At the same time, it’s the ultimate movie for series fans. That’s a feat more impressive than the showiest action set-piece.

The story picks up from where Fast & Furious (entry no. 4) left off with Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), and Mia (Jordana Brewster) on the run in Rio after springing Dom from jail. Now they’re all three living the fugitive lifestyle Dom knows so well from his years on the lam between the conclusion of The Fast and the Furious (the original film) and the tragedy that brought him home to LA at the start of the last film. When a drug kingpin targets them for elimination, they decide to finance their future by stealing his drug money; all $100 million in cash of it. They find a new ally, and Dom a new chance at love, in honest local cop Elena (Elsa Pataky) and a new antagonist in Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), an ultra-tough fed ordered to bring them in. Justin Lin returns as director in his third series outing.

Going along with the “further adventures of” storyline, the film also caters to fans with in-jokes and references to the events and characters of the earlier films. The best of them is the time Dom and Brian win a car in a street race… offscreen. Set-up and punch line do triple duty as in-joke, reference, and fond farewell to the street racing that was a keystone of the series up until now, but with this film has been replaced by summer movie-style outrageous action set-pieces.

What makes Fast Five the ultimate movie for series fans is that the continuity is more than superficial. Fast & Furious restored the nuclear family torn apart at the first film’s end. Fast Five goes a step further: it’s a reunion of the extended family that brings together supporting characters from all four prior films. The return of Vince (Matt Schulze), a mainstay member of Dom’s crew before Brian showed up, might have been expected as a narrative follow-up to the Dom-Brian-Mia reunion. Not expected was the return of characters from main storyline outliers 2 Fast 2 Furious (entry no. 2, natch; Brian’s solo cops and robbers adventure) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (entry no. 3; with none of the series principals aside from a cameo appearance by Dom).

The plot device behind the reunion is the assembly of a team of specialists to pull off the heist. Thematic continuity with the The Fast and the Furious is achieved when Dom resumes his rightful position as paterfamilias; the connection to the starter film is consciously evoked in the dialogue, there’s a lovely scene when Dom gives brotherly advice and support to Brian, and his smile when he realizes he’s inadvertently played matchmaker for two of his friends is a thing of beauty. The overarching effect is a film that wraps a ribbon around the series, ties it with a bow, and offers it as a present to the “Fast and Furious” family’s loyal supporters among the members of the audience.

The aforementioned summer movie-style outrageous action set-pieces take in gunfights, fistfights, foot chases, car chases, explosions, jaw-dropping stunts, a high body count among the drug lord’s minions and cops on the take, and an extended action finale that really must be seen to be believed. Like most films of its ilk, it goes on a little too long.

The quality and quantity of the action is a departure from past series entries, yet also a natural progression from the intrinsic absurdity of the street racing genre. The series’ defining characteristic is the films’ (individually and collectively) core of emotional seriousness. However, that core has always, albeit to varying degrees, come bundled in ridiculousness. The ridiculousness has never ceased to delight. In Fast Five, it amazes too.

3 stars

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Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Review of Fast & Furious

10 responses to “Movie Review – Fast Five (2011)

  1. Well Hellen, you know my take on the film. 0_<

    • Aside from the fact that you hate the series and I love it, I’d say we gave “Fast Five” pretty much the same review. Oh, and I use “fans” where you use “fanboys.” Don’t forget there are plenty of us fan_girls_ out here too. ^_^

  2. You could explain the appeal of these movies to me for a millenia and I’d still look at you like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick. I never did understand the attraction of cars going really fast, even as a kid, and certainly not in movies.

    Still, at least your review was worth reading. :-)

    • Glad I could entertain, even if I don’t persuade. ^_^ It’s not the cars per se (at least not for me), it’s the kineticism and dramatic potential of the chase. Car, foot, bicycle, horse, speedboat, rickshaw… it’s all good.

      • You had me at rickshaw. Now there’s a chase scene I’d like to see.

        • :D Definitely an underused vehicle in movie chases. Jackie Chan and a rickshaw is tickling the edge of my brain.

          • Surely Chan uses a rickshaw but I can’t come up with a title. For fun, I Googled the phrase and found a rickshaw chase cited for Octopussy (not a movie I remember especially well) in one of those hard-to-believe Wikipedia entries. Someone devoted a serious number of hours to a compilation of all vehicles used in the James Bond movies. Public service or madness…?

  3. I believe that the rickshaw chase/fight was in movie Miracles (1989) and he has a nice bicycle chase/fight in Projet A (1983).

    Rickshaw scene at 00:08:15:

    Clip with bike in alleyways:

    And for Richard (and wheomever else would like to read this):

    http://gaiderdracofilmreviews.blogspot.com/

    • Would you believe it, there’s a rickshaw chase in “Kung Fu Panda 2”! It’s quite Chan-esque too. :D

  4. @Miriam: That page is hilarious, although I don’t know which is funnier: that it exists, or that I just found use for it.

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