“FAST FIVE” – 4 STARS

I wasn’t expecting to say this but “Fast Five” was actually quite fun. I haven’t been the biggest fan of this series and it’s lack of appeal has caused me to skip some of the installments in what’s become a pretty popular franchise. But there was enough in the trailer to grab my attention and I came out pleasantly surprised. I think one reason this film worked for me is that it moves away from the street racing theme. At it’s core, “Fast Five” is a fuel-injected heist film and it makes no bones about it.

Thankfully it doesn’t take an in depth knowledge of the previous films to understand “Fast Five”. While being transported to prison, Dom (Vin Diesel) is sprung by Brian (Paul Walker) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). They flee to Rio de Janeiro where they are offered a job swiping some cars from a train. They find out that the cars have been seized by the DEA and belonged to powerful crime boss Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Reyes has men in on the job who kill three DEA agents and turn on Dom, Brian, and Mia. But the three manage to escape with the one car Reyes has the most interest in. Dom is framed for the deaths of the agents and Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is called on to bring them in. So with both Hobbs and Reyes hunting them, Dom assembles a team for that “one last job” – stealing $100 million from Reyes and then disappearing for good.

One thing I liked about “Fast Five” is that it never tries to be something it’s not. This is a high-octane action picture and it never veers too far off that path. Director Justin Lin goes for the outrageous and does things with cars that stretches the boundaries of belief. But it works because “Fast Five” aims for the spectacular and delivers it through several huge cinematic action sequences that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. There are plenty of RPMs, bullets, and flying fists injected throughout the rather simple but cohesive and entertaining narrative. There’s a particularly cool rooftop chase, a mano-a-mano throw-down between Dom and Hobbs, and a ending vehicle sequence that blew me away.

One thing that’s instantly noticable is how beautifully the film is shot. There are some gorgeous ariel shots of Rio that really helps set the atmosphere of the picture and the furious camera work during the action scenes give them such energy. The camera is imperative to Lin’s storytelling and it gives the film it’s biggest kick. The acting is steady and Diesel and Walker sell their characters pretty well. But it’s Johnson who seems to be having the most fun with his performance. Whether he’s hamming it up with the stereotypical tough guy oneliners or throwing haymakers, Johnson is a great fit.

I wasn’t expecting much from “Fast Five” but I really enjoyed what it offers.  There’s nothing challenging or contemplative here but there’s plenty of fun and excitement. If you watch the movie knowing what to expect there is a lot to like. Yes, there’s some corny dialogue and it’s sometimes overtly implausible, but it’s impossible not to be drawn in by sprawling action scenes and overall enjoyment. This is certainly one of the bigger surprises of 2011.

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