Fast Five

FAST FIVE ups the game of the ‘Furious’ crew by sending the extended Toretto ‘family’ to the exotic dangerland of Rio de Janeiro and adding the outsized persona of Dwayne Johnson to the cast of regulars. The butt has officially been kicked.

On the lamb in Brazil after freeing ‘Dominic Toretto’ (Vin Diesel), ‘Brian O’Conner’ (Paul Walker) and ‘Mia’ (Jordana Brewster, looking fab) run afoul of a Rio crime boss. Pursuing them is DSS agent ‘Luke Hobbs’ (Johnson) who, after a few turnabouts, temporarily joins forces with the racing rogues to rip the gangsters stash out from under him. Dom recruits members from previous plots, and Hobbs has assistance from an honest local policewoman. The odds are overwhelming, but then we know that going in…buckle up.

132 minutes rip by. In a textbook case of growing on the job, Justin Lin’s direction improves on his previous go from installment #4, Fast And Furious, which itself was a definite step up from his wobbly third leg The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift. Likewise, screenwriter Chris Morgan, who did both of those, contributes a much better script. The budget was increased to $125,000,000, 142 stunt personnel earned their share, more than 200 vehicles paid with their lives.

While the Brazilian supercity was used for establishing shots and swooping overheads, urban locales in San Juan, Puerto Rico (less costly, considerably safer) subbed for close-in scenes: series vet Stephen F. Windon handling cinematography. Further filming was accomplished in Atlanta. Bryan Tyler finessed another sleek score to keep things pumped.

‘Furious’ action reigns: the spectacular train heist and an even wilder demolition derby with a massive safe share adrenaline dosage with brawls, chases and gunbattles. Adding to the bravo excitement is that most of the craziness was pulled off without cheating: CGI is minimal.

Without distinctive personalities and characters to root for, the mayhem wouldn’t suffice. Gratefully, the script is decent and the cast mesh to a tee: Johnson’s testosterone-steaming cop joins Tyrese Gibson (a lot more bearable than he was in #2), Ludacris, Matt Schulze, Gal Godot (wow), Sung Kang (from #3, and somewhat livelier). Elsa Pataky comes aboard for her first of four go-rounds. The jokes work, too. Critics appreciated the way it all came down and fans swarmed to make it the 7th-most attended blast of 2011, swiping a worldwide haul of $626,100,000.

Business plan for a smart crime lord: “Five hundred years ago, the Portuguese and the Spanish came here, each trying to get the country from their natives. The Spaniards arrived, guns blazing, determined to prove who was boss. The natives killed every single Spaniard. Personally, I prefer the methods of the Portuguese. They came bearing gifts. Mirrors, scissors, trinkets. Things that the natives couldn’t get on their own, but to continue receiving them, they had to work for the Portuguese. And that’s why all Brazilians speak Portuguese today. Now, if you dominate the people with violence, they will eventually fight back because they have nothing to lose. And that’s the key. I go into the favelas and give them something to lose. Electricity, running water, school rooms for their kids. And for that taste of a better life, I own them“.  Sonofabitch must pay.

With Joaquim de Almeida, Tego Calderón, Don Omar, Michael Irby, Joseph Melendez, Sharon Tay. Eva Mendes cameos at the end to set up the next installment.

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