The original The Fast and the Furious came out in 2001, and the new Fast Five, its fourth sequel, is very much in love with things that were huge that year: Vin Diesel, The Rock, Ludacris, super-sized Hummer vehicles, and a certain other movie that arrived in 2001.
Fast Five is indeed a nostalgia exercise, but a surprisingly effective one.
Sure, the plot, dialogue and acting are as silly as usual. But buoyed by a sparkling Rio setting and an awesomely staged third-act action setpiece, Fast Five is the series' best outing since the original.
The Furious franchise, built on fast cars and the outlaws who drive (and sometimes steal) them, has taken a strange route in its decade.
A surprise smash in 2001, it launched the careers of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, to the point where Diesel got too big for it and sat out the second and third sequels. By 2009, both the stars and the franchise regressed to the points where they needed each other again, leading Diesel to return in Fast and Furious, another surprise hit.
I wrote in my review of Fast and Furious that Diesel's lack of acting talent had prevented him from enjoying a career like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; in the new film, we get a side-by-side comparison, as Johnson co-stars as a federal agent hunting Diesel down.
(The Rock vs. Vin Diesel, by the way, would've been an awesome main event for Wrestlemania in 2002 or 2003.)
Directed by the capable Justin Lin, in his third straight outing as director of the franchise, the opening sequence of the "Fast Five" has Diesel broken out of police custody for the first, by my count, of three times in the movie.
He, his sister (Jordana Brewster) and Paul Walker— now no longer even pretending to be an undercover cop—reconvene in Rio de Janeiro, where they plan a car heist and later come into conflict with a local businessman/gangster named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida).
Reyes apparently doesn't believe in banking or money laundering and instead keeps all of his money in cash in a large vault—sort of like Scrooge McDuck and his money bin—and since the gang has a grudge against him, they decide to plan a heist.
So the movie turns into Ocean's Eleven, as Diesel and Walker assemble a motley crew of characters from the previous four movies, including Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot, whose Israeli badass might be my favorite character of all.
True, the heist part has a lot more in common with the Oceans films than The Fast and the Furious franchise, and cars are only tangentially involved with the heist plot that takes up the bulk of the second act. But this is redeemed by the incredibly done chase sequence through the streets of Rio at the end.
And besides, Ocean's Eleven was a much, much better movie than The Fast and the Furious.
Diesel and Walker's limitations as actors have been well-documented; there's a reason neither of them has much of a career anymore besides these movies. I'm not sure I even heard Walker speak more than three or four lines. But they do a good enough job with the action that it's not much of a problem.
Dwayne Johnson looks like, well, he looks like a pro wrestler. Except he's even bigger now than he was in his WWE days—he now looks almost more cartoon character than man.
De Almeida does a good job as the other villain; he's played a Latin American drug kingpin numerous times before, most notably on 24 and in Desperado. He gets a long speech about Brazil's history of colonialism by the Portuguese that's so great I wish it actually had something to do with the movie.
Sure, once again, the acting is nothing special and the plot sort of silly—Diesel and Walker are both wanted worldwide for killing three DEA agents, so sure, of course their six friends will want to rush to join them in Brazil—and I had no idea which henchmen were shooting at which most of the time. But the movie is enough fun that I didn't mind so much.
I'm convinced this film was originally going to be called The Fast and the Furious Five, but Grandmaster Flash threatened to sue.
So what will they call the next one, which a post-credits teaser practically promises: The Faster and the Furiouser? The Fastest and Furiousest?
And now, an interview with "The 5-year-old Screenwriter of Fast Five" by the Onion's Today Now!
The Silver Screen Rating: 3.5 star (out of 5)
Roll Credits: Fast Five
Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Ludacris, Joaquim de Almeida
Length: 1 hour 47 minutes
-Digital projection showtimes available for this movie.