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Fast Five 

All sing Michael Bay' hymn of more is more

click to enlarge The testosterone-happy Diesel (left) and Walker learn which is bigger.
  • The testosterone-happy Diesel (left) and Walker learn which is bigger.

Fast Five

GRADE: B

There's check-your-brains-at-the-door and then there's brain-dead. Fast Five, the improbable fifth sequel to The Fast and the Furious, falls somewhere between the two. Doubling down on Hollywood's carbon footprint for the year, this high-octane exercise in stupidity and rock-'em-sock-'em car-fu officially heralds the summer blockbuster season. If slack-jawed macho posturing, sultry-eyed hotties, and big-budget demolition derbies are your thing, this is the film for you.

Not that storyline counts for much here, but Fast Five abandons its street racing origins to follow car-jacking Robin Hoods Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) as they seek vengeance on the Brazilian drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida) who cheated them while stealing a trio of DEA-impounded cars off a fast-moving train. With a steroidal federal agent on their tail (Dwayne Johnson), these two pull together a team of Ocean's 11-style thieves to break into the kingpin's $100 million vault. The only problem is that the money's hidden in Rio's central police station.

And that would be enough. But screenwriters Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson laughably try to inject some sentimental pathos into the mix, giving Dom numerous opportunities to pontificate about the importance of family. It's pretty eye-rolling stuff. Luckily, director Justin Lin knows the melodrama is just filler for his testosterone-fueled heist flick, and he does his best to keep things sharp, energetic and lean. Still, even the best filmmaker would have trouble smoothing over the simple-minded dialogue and stick-figure characters. The big 'ol garage-bound dead zone in the film's middle doesn't help matters either.

One thing Fast Five makes abundantly clear is the shallowness of Vin Diesel's charisma (and acting ability). With only sneers and stares to rely on, he's quickly upstaged by Johnson's smiles, muscles and scene-stealing persona. When the two finally start to beat the crap out of one another it's hard not to call bullshit on Diesel's eventual victory. In a film that demands willing suspension of disbelief, it's the hardest pill of all to swallow.

Running 10 minutes past the two-hour mark, Fast Five ultimately redeems itself with unhinged mayhem, emulating the Michael Bay mantra that more is more. While the gunplay and fistfights are pretty standard stuff, the opening train heist and inspired finale — which entails a pair of cars dragging a gigantic safe through the streets of Rio as scores of police cars pursue — is pretty magnificent, eliciting a well-earned "holy shit." And for many, that is well-worth the price of admission.

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October 21, 2020

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