Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review - Fast Five

Dominic Toretto and Brian O'Conner recruit old friends in order to get payback on a drug lord in Rio while also trying evade arrest from a federal agent task force in this fifth installment to the Fast and Furious franchise.

There is no other example of film franchise that catches its stride in the fifth film, but "Fast Five" is exactly that movie. It takes what has worked the best from each of the previous films and lumps them altogether in one action-packed ride. Not only does the fifth entry combine all the best aspects from previous installments but it also houses the best and most outrageous action out of the series. Wisely the charged ride begins and ends with its foot firmly placed on the gas peddle. Nothing you've seen previously from the Fast and the Furious compares. Director Justin Lin has without a shadow of a doubt raised the stakes with what this franchise is capable of.

"Fast Five" changes the game a bit. I don't mean in the sense of this movie is a game changer because for an action film it is very straightforward, but in terms of the franchise, things have changed. Previously, the Fast and the Furious films have been a mixed pot. They've tried to be movies about street racing but only "Tokyo Drift" truly embraced that mindset. The other entries have been a tightrope act in between car enthusiasm and criminal activity. For better or for worse the previous movies with the characters of Dominic Toretto and Brian O'Conner never knew exactly which side to take. The original film is just a carbon copy of "Point Break." Replace the surf boards with cars and you've got the same movie nearly beat for beat. Its sequel, "2 Fast 2 Furious" tried to re-create the same feeling minus Vin Diesel but failed miserably. Enter Justin Lin a director who started off by saying, "You want a movie about street racing? Well here it is," but no one paid attention. Lin then got both Paul Walker and Vin Diesel to breathe life back into the franchise. It worked, audiences flocked to see Dom and Brian back together but unfortunately "Fast & Furious" still didn't have the right formula mixture. It was almost there but not yet. To make a car analogy, the franchise had yet to get into the right gear. Now in the fifth film and shifted into 5th gear, "Fast Five" finally embraced one side over the other. The fifth film is a heist movie plain and simple. It doesn't try to be a street racing movie at all. There are plenty of cars and even some racing but not in the I'm gonna win this quarter mile sense.

One aspect to "Fast Five" that works incredibly well is the team. In all the previous films you had two main character arcs. Brian and Dom or Brain and Roman or Sean and Han, but this time we have a whole group coming together. In comparison this is like the "Ocean's Eleven" or "Italian Job" of the Fast and the Furious franchise. The team is united to take on one major goal or accomplishment. Each person brings a individual advantage that makes the team unit rock solid. Part of this team dynamic works so well because "Fast Five" is reuniting old friends and familiar faces from the franchise. I'd be lying if I said seeing Brian and Roman reunite didn't give me chills. Granted I hated Tyrese Gibson in "2 Fast 2 Furious" but seeing him back and hungry again worked. Same can be said for Ludacris returning as Tej and Matt Schulze returning as Vince. Perhaps it is the direction of Justin Lin. It could also be that the time in between the films has ended up causing some sort of strange Fast and the Furious nostalgia. Either way, the varied cast members from previous installments coming back together worked fabulously.

The Fast and Furious films have never had any sort of prose. The dialogue throughout the franchise has been soap opera caliber at best. The fifth entry still has laugh-out-loud dialogue throughout however, the script itself and scenarios within are a car length ahead of the previous films. It is not like Universal brought in anyone new either, Chris Morgan like Justin Lin has been onboard since "Tokyo Drift." Part of why I think "Fast Five" is so much better than the previous films goes back to its stride. This film isn't confused. It knows exactly what it wants to be. After watching "Fast & Furious" and "Fast Five" it seems clear that Lin and Morgan have a road map ahead of them. They know where they want this franchise to go so writing that has become more focused. All that said, this film still has it flaws. It is by all means a movie you should throw logic out the window while watching otherwise you'll find yourself saying, "but..." way too much.

"Fast Five" brings a bunch of people back including Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Jordana Brewster, but it also introduces a brand new character we can all be thankful for. That character is Luke Hobbs played by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. This character is a god send to Mr. Johnson's career. Finally we get a real action role from a guy who should bleed action movies. Lately he's been stuck in a tutu with fairy wings but now all that can be forgotten. We have Hobbs who is hellbent on hunting down and bringing to justice Brian and Dom any way he can. Dwayne Johnson is electric as Hobbs and he does his best to bring the charm and tenacity we know he excels at. The rest of the cast too is full of charisma. Being a fan of this series from the get go, watching as the character development has grown has been memorable. As Dom as always said, "Its all about family" and these characters have become just that. Minus any shortcomings, they are family and I love them. I get happy for them when we hear good news, I laugh along when they make a funny and I get upset when they are wronged. I've grown with these characters over the course of ten years and it is great to see the family dynamic introduced back in "The Fast and the Furious" finally working as it should.

The best thing about the Fast and the Furious franchise is after seeing each new film, you're ready for more and nothing changes in "Fast Five." Once the credits have rolled you are ready to take another spin and go on another adventure with this crew. "Fast Five" has some exceptional building blocks for further films and really does a fine job of setting the table for the next installment. Like I said before, "Fast Five" has finally chosen a side and it did a pretty fantastic job of executing the side it came down on.