Fast Five Review
It should be noted that the majority of this review comes from my coverage of the theatrical release of Fast Five, now amended to take note of this Extended Edition home format release.
Well I never really expected to see another Fast and the Furious movie at the cinema. A decade ago I remember enjoying the first instalment at the flicks, a fairly modest budget Point Break-lite production which was both a sleeper hit and also a breakthrough vehicle for some of its relatively new talent. It was bristling with macho posturing, had plenty of frantic races, and made enough money to guarantee a sequel. Unfortunately, the second movie dropped the biggest, best star of the original – a young Vin Diesel fresh from his cracking debut Pitch Black – and headlined the lacklustre, wooden co-star Paul Walker instead. It was terrible. Still, the franchise somehow lived on, moving the setting to Tokyo for the third instalment and dropping all of the familiar faces. But it did feature a cameo from Vin Diesel, teasing fans with the promise that the man may return to the fold.
Two years ago it happened – I returned to the cinema for another entry – drawn in by the fourth film in the franchise (the third chronologically, as Tokyo Drift is actually set after all of the rest of the movies) being released – simply titled Fast & Furious. It saw many of the key cast members from the original hit return, not just Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, but also Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. I still remember the great teaser trailer, which featured a frantic foot-chase across the rooftops and streets: it actually made me quite interested in returning to the series. And, sure enough, I really enjoyed it. Yes, it’s throwaway silliness masquerading under a pseudo-serious revenge plot, and peppered with increasingly ludicrous stunts, but it was a whole lot of fun. Clearly the biggest recent success in the careers of all those involved (okay, so Rodriguez had supporting roles in Avatar, the lacklustre Battle:LA, and the enjoyable Machete, but she’s done little of note), it soon became apparent that this was not the end of the series, but actually a new beginning. A few Facebook and Twitter teaser posts later and fans found out that they were in store for not just this one new movie, but a whole new trilogy. Boasting almost all of the cast members from all of the previous movies, as well as the addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, welcome to the second outing, Fast Five.
If you haven’t seen any of the Fast and the Furious films since the first one then it’s well worth checking out Fast & Furious. I know that plot may not seem all that important in these kinds of action-orientated outings, but kind of a lot happens in that last film, and – as stated – it’s the start of a new trilogy, so there’s plenty of overlapping story arcs. If you want a more comprehensive recap, read my review here, but basically Fast Five (also known as Fast & Furious 5 or Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist outside of the US) picks up right where the last movie left off. Paul Walker’s former undercover FBI agent Brian O’Connor, now reunited with Jordana Brewster’s Mia Toretto, pull off an insane prison bus hijack in order to free Mia’s brother, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Fleeing to Rio, the three of them take a dangerous job to steal some high-end vehicles from... a train! After another ludicrous stunt it becomes clear that there is more going on than they first thought – the cars contained a chip which revealed the locations of where a Rio crime lord stashes all of his money. And, funnily enough, he wants his chip back. With a determined Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) on their tale, and all of the corrupt cops in Rio out to get them, Dom and Brian have to put together a team in order to pull off one last heist and, hopefully, buy their freedom.
Kicking off with a double-dose opening salvo of totally over-the-top, utterly impossible stunt sequences, Fast Five certainly delivers in its promise to be bigger than anything before. I can only imagine how it would have all looked in IMAX (it’s the first of the series to be presented this way) but it certainly blew you away on the big screen, and continues to impress even on home cinema. The craziness is contagious, the insanity may well be regularly unintentionally humorous, but that only adds to the enjoyment factor. It really is a blast. And, after a frenetic foot-chase across the Favela rooftops you think you’re in for a real treat with this latest entry. Then the script gets in the way and things start to go pear-shaped. I’m not sure who decided that this movie should be 130 minutes long, but it was a bad decision. All of the rest of the series fluctuate around the 107-minute mark, which is perfect for this kind of action-driven outing, but Fast Five pushes the boat out to well beyond the two-hour mark, and there’s just a whole chunk of wasted time in the middle.
From the point at which Dom assembles his new team everything starts to go wrong. Sure, it’s nice to see everybody return – Tyrese Gibson and rapper Ludacris (both from 2 Fast 2 Furious), Sung Kang (from Fast & Furious and Tokyo Drift), the funny Latino duo and the gorgeous Gal Gadot (from Fast & Furious) and Matt Schulze (from the original Fast and the Furious) – but what they get up to has no relevance to the plot here. They steal cars, and test-drive them around a warehouse in a pointless montage which becomes yet more painful when you realise that it’s not going anywhere. The plan changes several times, and all of these scenes eventually become utterly redundant. There’s a good twenty minutes of nonsense in here which could easily have been trimmed to make a more enjoyable, streamlined actioner, and you wouldn’t lose a thing, content-wise.
Things do, eventually, get back on track, with the what-you’ve-been-waiting-for, mano-a-mano confrontation between Vin Diesel and The Rock, which is like watching two Arnie-model Terminators battle it out in a confined space; and then an enjoyable ambush sequence (reminiscent of the standard-setting ambush scene from the Tom Clancy / Jack Ryan thriller Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford) which sees the team’s motivations change from money to revenge. From there on out it’s all-action, and we get a truly over-the-top climax which involves more cars getting destroyed than arguably all of the rest of the movies put together.
These are also the main areas where the Extended Edition comes into play – running little over a minute extra in length, you can barely notice the differences: a few seconds gained during the train heist, a few more during the Favela chase, about 6 seconds of extra blows in the Diesel/Rock face-off (including a head-butt, an elbow check and some shots to the ribs), and a further 10 seconds during the subsequent ambush. The blows have enhanced sound (there's a vicious knife-to-the-throat, as well as a painful neck crack), the bullet impacts have added CG blood (most apparent during the ambush - though not all that realistic), but, really, there’s absolutely nothing here that is going to truly seduce somebody not already convinced by the Theatrical Version, although it is probably worth choosing the Extended Edition out of preference when you watch the movie.
Acting? You came to the wrong place. Vin Diesel is still growlingly supercool, and I’m glad he’s returning to the trilogies that made him famous (a new XXX and a new Riddick movie are due next); Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (recently enjoyable in Faster) sports what I can only describe as a redneck goatee, as well as an unconvincing Southern drawl (he also has some of the worst lines in the movie), but is still immensely fun in the action department. Actually the person I was a little disappointed in was Paul Walker. He is undoubtedly a poor man’s Keanu Reeves, with thoroughly wooden acting to boot, but he has grown into a more grizzled variation of his former self, and it worked well in most of the last entry, Fast & Furious. Here he has let it slide again, and almost beats The Rock in the ‘painful lines’ ranks. I was also surprised by some of the random dynamics of the romantic subplots – in particular, the leggy Gal Gadot from the last entry, who definitely had some chemistry there with Vin Diesel’s Dom, returns here but doesn’t even touch on that spark. Instead we get an entirely new character with an entirely new background to draw Dom’s interest.
Ultimately, with a few too many cooks in the kitchen, Fast Five comes across like the Ocean’s Thirteen of the series. It’s enjoyable fun seeing everybody back together, and it is far better than the lame second movie, but it still doesn’t fire on all cylinders, coming across as more of an ensemble-based, cash-orientated outing than a truly organic development of the saga. Some careful pruning could have tuned this baby to be running much more smoothly, and wouldn’t leave you so physically and mentally numb by the two hour mark. Still, there’s an enjoyable action romp at the centre of it all, and it’s worth seeing just for the outrageous stunts and the brutal fight between two of Hollywood’s last remaining muscle-bound brawlers. Be prepared though, a few minutes into the end credits and you realise that we’re not done yet: these guys will return – along with even more characters from the previous movies (not just 2 Fast 2 Furious’s Eva Mendes but also one other big, and slightly implausible surprise player). I’m not sure it’ll draw me to an IMAX theatre, but if it does, no doubt it’ll be another fun blast.