Fast Five: Dull Chases, Dumb Heists, and Lots of Snarling and Sweaty Bromance

Usually I cringe when I hear a movie referred to as part of a “franchise.” I love film as an art-form too much to ever want to debase it by acknowledging the (admittedly large) segment of the industry that’s devoted to churning out pre-packaged, pre-sold commoditized entertainment products. Even as something as horrid as Transformers doesn’t deserve to be talked about as if it’s as fungible as the entire McDonald’s product line. Even if it is.

But, as I watched Fast Five with a theater full of fans who eagerly and joyously lapped up this cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac, it became clear that my anti-franchise stance is a silly hang-up. To hear the crowd around me cheer and laugh as each familiar character entered the picture, you’d think The Fast and the Furious (the 2001 film that kicked off the saga) is the most beloved movie franchise in history.

I was but a stranger to this land, having seen none of the previous four films about a diverse crew of fun-loving crooks who like to race cars and steal piles of money. They’re good-hearted, blue-collar folks at heart, don’t you know. Which is why we should root for them as they plan to rip-off the most powerful crime lord in Rio de Janeiro, he of the expensive suits and tendency to brag about exploiting the poor souls who live in the city’s slums.

Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson just need to get a room already.

You don’t need to know why our heroes are in Brazil, except that they’re on the run from the law — represented here by the snarling, frequently sweaty federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). After Dom (Vin Diesel), O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are screwed over by the arch-villain Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), they decide to go after the $100 million in dirty money that Reyes has stashed all over the city. They call in their extensive crew, some of whom apparently are from different movies in the series and had never met before.

Perhaps because of the goodwill that was flowing through the audience at the screening, I want to cut this movie a break. I want to give it my recommendation. I just can’t do it.

I don’t mind that the action scenes continually find new ways to defy all known laws of physics, since action scenes often do. What I mind is when they defy their own internal logic. During a theft early in the movie, government agents guarding precious cargo on a speeding train don’t hear a thing as a gaping hole is cut into the side of the train and two cars are pulled onto a tow truck driving alongside, but they instantly jump to their feet and race to the scene at the sound of a single bullet fired.

Fast Five is a heist flick that begins by following the usual conventions involved in planning for a seemingly impossible task (removing piles of money from a massive vault in the center of a police station). Much of the appeal of heist movies is watching as the clever plan of the criminals unfolds, but we’re denied this pleasure when the climactic crime becomes instead a display of brute force followed by an artlessly directed chase through city streets.

That’s what it comes down to, really. I’ve given Fast Five every chance to succeed. One great car chase — something on par with The Italian Job or The French Connection — that’s all I ask. I’m happy to eat a Big Mac when I’m in the right mood. I’m just never in the mood for a days-old, reheated burger.

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