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Once you get behind the wheel,
Of monsters made of speed and steel
And get a taste
Of wild haste
And scruple-free
Velocity,
You’ll crave the rubber-burning pace
It takes to win an even race,
To redirect the losers’ sting
And revel in the conquering.

And sometimes you will use those skills
In shady ways to pay the bills.
Don’t think that I am insincere.
This movie’s moral’s very clear.
________________________

MPA rating: PG-13

And we’re back to the Fast and Furious franchise! Is anyone really excited about that? Oh, well, I’ve started this marathon and will finish it. After hearing that the fifth film in this series is where it finally started rising out of mediocrity into blockbuster gold, I had some high hopes for it. Honestly, it’s still not “my kind of movie,” but I see why it’s viewed as the start of an upward trend.

Despite sharing the same director as the previous two installments, Fast Five just feels… different from the other four before it. Set largely in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, it’s filmed in more of a gritty action movie mode instead of the sleek hot rod preening of its predecessors. Heck, the street racing aspect has been almost completely replaced with car chases, fist fights, and shoot-‘em-ups; at one point, they cut away right before a race to show how easy it was to win, I suppose. There’s still at least one race and some of the sexism and fan service the previous films reveled in, but it does feel like the franchise is in transition.

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Part of that difference is how the storyline has transformed from undercover cops to a full-on heist plot, with newly on-the-run fugitives Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) gathering their past allies from other movies to steal all the money of a Brazilian crime boss (Joaquim de Almeida). It’s almost like this is the car-themed counterpart to The Avengers, bringing together characters you didn’t expect to see side-by-side, from Tokyo Drift’s Han (Sung Kang) to 2 Fast 2 Furious’s Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). And of course, the biggest addition is the introduction of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Luke Hobbs, the shiny, intimidating DSS agent tracking down Dom and his team and doing his best to match Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive as Mr. No-Nonsense Manhunter.

Fast Five is overly long, but I must admit that it’s very good at hiding how thin its plot is by just propelling itself forward with explosions and star charisma. The story pretty much only makes sense because the writers wanted it to. Both the U.S. government and an all-powerful crime lord are trying to take down Dom and his crew, yet they’re able to stay off the radar, prepare for the heist, freely drive and walk around in the city, and only be found when the plot is ready for it to happen. Plus, the streets of Rio are conveniently empty at times, and an extended training montage in the middle is basically rendered moot when those preparations are never used in the actual heist. Not to mention character changes, such as a sudden change of heart for Hobbs that goes further than the law would allow and the fact that Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is suddenly a high-tech mastermind when he was little more than a garage owner with connections in the second film.

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Someone needs a hug.

Despite all this, Fast Five lives up to its thrill ride expectations. The whole final action sequence requires complete suspension of disbelief, ignoring both physics and the human collateral from all the carnage, but it’s the first time this franchise has left me breathless with its high-octane antics. There are spurts of decent character development as well, with Brian learning he will soon be a father, which will hopefully make him rethink his recent life of crime. I don’t typically like heist films since they basically say stealing is okay if you’re stealing from a bad guy, but Fast Five is definitely the best installment in the franchise so far. I can’t wait to see how and if it will keep getting better.

Best line: (Roman) “You know, I think I make a better special agent than you ever did.”   (Brian) “I guess that depends on how you define ‘special’.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
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