Movie review: Fast Five
Yes, I went to see this flick last night at the fabulous Grand Lake Theater in Oakland last night. As an aside, when I say fabulous I mean that with all sincerity. It was built in 1926 and still has all the amazing architecture, filigree, and cool things you don’t see any more like a huge theater hall that hasn’t been broken up into four smaller theaters to maximize profit. The owners also championed the cause to end parking meters that ran until 8pm last year (Oakland parking is the devil) so I have to love them for that.
It seems my curse of never finding a movie crappy enough to really be worthy of my bagging skills continues. Fast Five wasn’t bad. It wasn’t necessarily good, mind you. What it was was entertaining, like watching G.L.O.W. (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). You will learn nothing, gain nothing, you life will not be in any way enhanced from watching it, and you will be kind of embarrassed if your friends catch you watching it, but fun to watch nevertheless.
Before we get into this I should mention that I have never seen any of the previous movies and car racing movies, unless the cars have machine guns on the front (Deathrace) are really not my thing. Street racers are, in my opinion, kind of dumbass punks. In my experience street racers are guys who buy a Honda Civic for about $10,000, spend three years and $15000 upgrading it, and then sell it for about $10,000. There’s a garage I drive by at night sometimes that is closed all day long and opens about 7pm to stay open until about 3am working on these cars. While I am fascinated by the concept of a GTA style all night upgrade garage the lifestyle doesn’t do much for me.
Anyway, the story. Vin Diesel plays some kind of convicted street racing criminal who is more or less going up for life. His sister and her boyfriend bust him out so he can go to Brazil and continue his life of crime. He runs afoul of the local crime boss and decides to steal a huge amount of money from him. Meanwhile, the Rock plays some kind of Federal Agent who, with a gang of disposable heros, are given the task of capturing Vin and his friends while more or less ignoring any concept of Brazilian jurisdiction or sovereignty. Car driving hijinx ensue. Cars and a big chunk of Rio get wrecked.
What surprised me was that, while the story was shockingly decent (if somewhat simplistic and linear), it really seemed unnecessary as a functional part of the movie. The villain is grossly stereotypical (how many times can we see a crime lord kill a subordinate who has failed in our lifetime) but honestly, if he hadn’t been in the film I don’t think I would have enjoyed it less. The subplot with Dwayne Johnson actually added to and enhanced the story rather than mired it down. The driving was super cool, and believe it or not the acting as not really bad. Better than Water for Elephants by a lot, although it might have just been really good casting. Vin Diesel is at his best when he plays a roll that seems to match his perceived personality (Chronicles of Riddick, for example) but even his humanizing scenes were not stomach turning.
Let’s let the stars and black holes speak for themselves. The story was palatable, which is a lot more than I expected. One star. The driving was actually exciting and cool. Two stars. According to my research, none of it was CGI. All stunt cars and really good editing. One star. They really didn’t break the physics engine too much (more on that later). One star. The acting was either decent or just really appropriate, also something I didn’t expect. One star. Really good camera work and editing. One star. They didn’t force me to watch it in 3D. One star. While my personal taste leans towards classic American muscle cars rather than super sports cars, the cars were really cool (and they did have a couple muscle cars). Two stars. The women, while all pretty hot, felt like they actually had legitimate roles and weren’t just crowbarred in for sex appeal. One star. In spite of the fact that I was seeing the fifth movie in the series and had never seen any of the others I did not feel like I was being left on the outside for not knowing all the inside crap from the other four. One star. Total: twelve stars.
Now the black holes. While most of the driving did not break any laws of physics, the final chase scene with the two cars pulling a 10 ton safe seemed a little beyond what would be possible, assuming the bumpers didn’t just get torn off at some point. I took physics in college and there is a concept out there known as coefficient of friction that the writers might have considered looking at. I will say might have, as the entire chase with the safe was incredibly cool and exciting, and will hold them back to one black hole. There were a couple scenes where bad guys seemed to spawn out of nowhere like a first person shooter and you were left unsure who was shooting at who. One black hole. The movie fell back on the whole story dodge of “bad guys who can’t shoot straight”. I’m sorry, but three guys with assault rifles firing at a running target less than 30 yards ahead of them should fill them with enough bullets to equip an army platoon, or at least one. One black hole. The Rock, in spite of the fact that he and his squad are armed to the teeth, opts to duke it out with Vin Diesel in and extended, if exciting, fight scene. One black hole. US Agents in a foreign country generally don’t have the right to run around wrecking and shooting anything they see. Generally they have to work with local law enforcement. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
Actually, I have a new thing for my reviewing process with this review, and that is things that are irksome but don’t really rate a black hole. In this film I found it kind of annoying that a Brazilian crime lord would have a ocean container full of American money. I looked up Brazilian money and it’s all like purple and blue, so you can’ even claim it looks like US dollars. Also, while it is pretty much obligatory that if you are going to film anything in Rio you have to do a panning shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain, you don’t have to do another one every 10 minutes. Seriously, once is enough.
So a grand total of 7 stars, a shockingly good score given what I was expecting to see. If you like cars and driving then definitely see this on the biggest screen you can find. I am pretty sure it will lose a lot of its luster on your TV so try to see in a theater. This is definitely a guys night out movie, so if possible try to leave the girlfriend at home, unless she herself is really into cars and driving.
By the way, I didn’t think this was star worthy, but one thing I appreciate about this entire movie series is the fact that they give each film a related but distinctly different title, rather than simply adding another number to the end of the first title, like our upcoming Hangover 2 (Hangover image courtesy of the movie t shirt category). For the record, while not exactly pinnacles of creative achievement, the film titles in this series are The fast and the Furious (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), the Fast and the Furious: Tokeyo Drift (2006), Fast and Furious (2009), and Fast Five (2011).