Fifth time's the charm ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fifth time's the charm

Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist
My rating:

Also known as Fast Five in the States, 'cos it wouldn't be a Fast & Furious movie without a ridiculous title. The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast & Furious, Fast Five - these are either some insanely unimaginative titles, or there is some deranged genius in how terse and straightforward they are. Either way, the common denominator is insanity. And as my retrospective of the series to date will indicate, I didn't think much of the movies themselves either. But after the roaring box-office success of this latest instalment (it opened a week early in the States), it's a foregone conclusion that there will be a Fast Six, and a Furious Seven, and then a Fasturious Eight. (*insanelaugh*) The prospect of these might have previously filled me with, if not crushing despair, then at least a mild dissatisfaction with the world.

But not after actually watching this movie. Now, I say bring on the sequels, whatever they'll be called!

After breaking Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of jail, former FBI agent Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) is now on the run with his girlfriend, Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). In Rio de Janeiro, they meet with Dom's old partner in crime Vince (Matt Schulze), who brings them in on a job to hijack cars from a moving train - a job that goes sour, earning them the enmity of Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the crime boss of Rio. Instead of running for their lives, Dom plans to stage a daring heist to rob Reyes of $100 million, and he brings together a team of familiar faces: Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Han (Sung Kang), Giselle (Gal Gadot), Tego (Tego Calderon) and Rico (Don Omar). But hot on their heels is US Diplomatic Security Services agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who with the aid of local rookie cop Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), aims to bring the "wrath of God" down on Dom.

Whoo! That was a fun movie. And it's honestly surprising how much it improves on its immediate predecessor, as well as every other previous Fast & Furious sequel. I said that the formula for making these movies good is to completely forego emotional involvement in favour of car chases, more car chases, and not forgetting, car chases. Whaddya know, screenwriter Chris Morgan actually got me to care about these people through a few broad character strokes. And more importantly, Justin Lin captured the exact right balance between humanising these characters and emphasising the plain dumb action movie fun.

But it's the plain dumb action movie fun that people come for, and they'll get it in spades. And yes, it is dumb. (It is, in fact, very dumb.) But it is just the exact right kind of dumb that'll get you to willingly leave your brain at the door. I don't generally like that phrase, since I don't see why a functioning intellect should be an impediment to enjoying a film - but the thing is, there is good dumb fun and there is bad dumb fun. A movie that fails to convince me to not think about the impossibilities of its action scenes - and the holes in its plot - is a bad one, but Fast Five convinced me handily. These are some of the most bone-jarringly thrilling, high-speed action scenes you'll see anywhere, from its opening train heist to its climactic chase through the streets of Rio - in which two cars drag a ten-ton safe behind them and still manage to achieve 100mph speeds.

And leave a shitload of destruction in their wake, all of which looks for goddamn real like they really did smash real cars and real buildings into real smithereens. One clear weakness of Fast & Furious (the fourth one, and yes, I have to clarify this) is an overabundance of fake-looking CGI in its action scenes; there's none of that in Fast Five, probably owing to a bigger budget (you'd be surprised how modestly-budgeted all the previous ones were). And the action scenes were imaginative. The train heist, the Rio street chase, even the various bits of heist-planning business in between are always fun and inventive. There's this terrifically funny video skit by the Onion News Network, an interview with Morgan - who's five years old - but the movie itself has the last laugh. This stuff was devised by at least a nine-year-old.

You know what else makes this the best in the series, action-wise? No street races. Oh, there is one, but more about that later; what's clear is that this instalment largely moves away from the street-racing angle and turns our heroes into international heist artists - with a specialty in expert high-speed driving. The one time it visits Rio's underground racing scene is deliberately brief, as if to say "yeah, this is where we came from, but we're done wit dat now." And yet, there are heaps of references to the previous films, not the least of which are all the returning characters - one from every instalment, in fact. They're all lots of fun, the banter and camaraderie is often very funny, and it even adds weight to its theme of how Dom values family above all else. Emotional weight, at that. And the one street race, an impromptu one between Dom, Brian, Roman and Han, feels like Fast & Furious All-Stars - an entirely forgivable fanservicey moment.

Wait! I haven't even talked about The Rock yet! This is indeed the first cinematic match-up between these two brickhouses, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Vin Diesel, and it is given both the momentous buildup and awesome payoff it deserves. Lin and Morgan are clearly aware of how yummy this pairing is, and they play it up to the hilt, as do Diesel and Johnson. The latter especially has found a great role in the inexorably badass Hobbs, much better than his previous one; he is given some terrifically cheesy tough-guy dialogue on which he can exercise his rare talent of delivering with a straight face. Paul Walker is still dull, but Tyrese Gibson's return as the hilarious blowhard Roman Pearce is welcome. I'm still not much of a fan of Han, but I thought it was neat that the Asian guy gets the girl this time. Oh, and speaking of girls, Giselle, Mia and newcomer Elena all play prominent (and useful) parts, so there's none of that trophy-female sexism of previous instalments.

So yeah, this isn't just the best of the series (a pretty low bar), it's a genuinely good action movie, one that's unashamedly ridiculous yet completely wins you over with its ridiculousness. It took five films and ten years, but the Fast & Furious franchise has finally figured out how to be good - the kind of good that I'd never have expected from it. And yes, good enough to make me look forward to more sequels. Bring 'em all back! Bring back Dom, Hobbs - you can lose Brian, frankly - Roman, Tej, Han (although, and I may be completely alone in this, I think it's time to bring back Sean Boswell), Giselle, and the two surprise cameos in the post-credits scene. Yes, there is one, and yes, it's a boon for long-time fans of the series, and yes, it worked on me. And yes, I'm a Fast & Furious fan now. Late, but better than never.

NEXT REVIEW: Momok Jangan Panggil Aku
Expectations: oh gaaawwd


son of the land said...

You're not alone. I think they should bring back Sean too.

Nice review, btw. I think I'll catch it soon.