Thursday, May 05, 2011

668 - Fast Five review

I surrender. Five installments into this series, and I no longer have the will to express contempt for the brainless plots or scorn the preposterous developments. My review of “Fast & Furious” begrudgingly admitted excellent craft but derided the machinelike commercialism; now, I’m confessing to digging it. There’s skill here too impressive to be dismissed, a muscular energy that bursts off the screen.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return, heading up a team of expert crooks out for a $100 million score in Brazil. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joins the series as a seriously ripped lawman who’s serious about catching the thieves. How serious? Seriously. When he and his team arrive in Brazil, sporting an armored vehicle and a few dozen machine guns, he tells the Rio police captain, “Stay the fuck out of my way,” an inspired moment of diplomacy as foreign law officers arrive in the country so that they can arrest and kill a few dozen of its residents.

His character’s a real tough guy, a classic anti-villain (an antagonist on the side of the righteous), at least until he and Diesel bond over fisticuffs and shootouts. Cops in the “Fast” universe are happy to put their integrity on hold when they meet a likeable criminal. Johnson seems to be a good sport about films which don’t feature him in the lead, and here he made a wise choice, since he’ll undoubtedly be in any sequels.

Director Justin Lin, who helmed the previous two “Fast” installments, has unveiled enormous potential as a maker of fine blockbusters. Unlike Michael Bay, he demonstrates a desire to keep the action fast without blowing out the engine. His action scenes, covering everything from preposterously elaborate car heists to gunfights, are fantastically choreographed and shot with a clarity that rises above workmanlike competence into exciting artistry. Some critics, apparently those with science degrees, like to admonish the film’s casual approach towards physics, even though the true fiction comes in when Diesel bests Johnson mano y mano. These action scenes are so good that one might almost fail to notice that certainly some hundred or so Brazilian police perish courtesy of the heroes’ plot.

The characters have lines, to be sure, and they’re delivered appropriately, but the real dialogue here occurs through facial expressions. Sound’s a necessity in a film so replete with revving engines, crashes, gunfire, and explosions, but when the words, well, are more a formality. Here themes are expressed through actions, smiles, frowns, and grimaces. Only an intellectual uses his or her words to express emotion, and these real men aren’t wasting time writing letters and reading books. When Diesel and Walker exchange a nod (“I love you, bro.”), Walker and Jordana Brewester look into each other’s eyes (“I love you, baby.”), or the crime lord antagonist looks at his cash pile (“I love you, money.”), a mute button would nary cause a disruption.

This might sound like a complaint. But I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of big, loud, and dumb movies that exist just to brighten people’s days and make fortunes for its backers. And there’s definitely something very smart about a film like that which turns out this good.

3.5 out of 5

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