By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Director Justin Lin’s “Fast Five” is proof positive once again that the pundit H.L. Mencken was right when he opined that no one ever went broke underestimating the bad taste of Americans. Despite laughable acting, a ridiculously convoluted script and unfocused direction, the cacophonous heist film is raking in the moolah like Madoff.
Adding disappointment to injury, the franchise has wandered from its original essence. While no great cinema feat, “Fast and Furious” (2001) nonetheless mixed a colorfully informative survey of the newest generation auto enthusiast with its action yarn. Starring were the hopped up, small displacement “rice rockets” familiar to any young gearhead.
Perhaps correctly estimating that there wouldn’t be much money in further exploring said car culture, the initial sociology lesson has since given way to a string of mediocre shoot-em-ups. Only a modicum of lip service is paid to the germinal idea. With the power-shift from motors to guns, the emphasis is now on violence, swagger and nihilism.
Its brutal soul shown for the same gratuitousness that darkens far too many Saturday night movie screens throughout these United States, a heretofore forgiving veil is now unflatteringly lifted from its cast. Vin Diesel, who successfully epitomized the fast and furious way of life in the inaugural issue, now proves he isn’t very much of an actor.
Also exposing himself as no Olivier is co-star Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner, the ex-FBI agent who has since crossed the line and gone into cahoots with Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, convicted felon with extenuating circumstances. Joining the thespically challenged, Jordana Brewster is Mia, Dominic’s pretty sister and Brian’s love interest.
Probably not to be impolite, the bulk of the supporting cast puts in similarly ham-fisted performances. This includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who, while often issued a pass when playing the kindhearted strongman, is incredibly unconvincing as the FBI agent out to stop Dominic and Brian from committing whatever crime caper it is they are planning.
Subscribing to Filmdom’s on-again, off-again code that says it’s OK to steal from scourges of society, Dominic and his blue collar variation on the Lost Generation find themselves in Rio de Janeiro fixing to relieve drug lord Reyes of his fortune. Various specialist-accomplices from previous episodes are summoned to join in the fun.
You wouldn’t know it from hackneyed exhortations such as, “We’ll need five fast cars!” But considering the “Mission Impossible”-like strategies Dominic devises, he’s quite a crime general. It saddens us to think that, had it not been for whatever deprivations attended his youth, such sense of calculation might have been put to more positive use.
But I don’t get how the guy can claim antihero props. Doing a rogue, poor man’s “Godfather,” the pudgy bandit rationalizes most of his behavior with the blanket canon, “It’s family.” Give me a break, Vin. Ostensibly characterized to embody rage against the system, he’s really the poster boy for exactly why one should stay in school.
Even less interesting, Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner never expends his dramatic muscles past a self-satisfied smile. Brian’s raison d’etre has resulted from hypocrisies encountered whilst on the so-called right side of the law. Dominic’s physical antithesis, he is the golden boy in this motley crew who make morality’s gray area their playground.
His gal Mia and her sister gang members are ostensibly 21st Century versions of noir gun molls— Ida Lupino and Virginia Mayo, but without the artistic talent. Naturally, like their boyfriends, they, too, are hell on wheels. Available for both death-defying breakout missions and getaway assignments, they also aren’t above an occasional Mata Hari gig.
Supplying a far less flattering stereotype, Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Ludacris as safecracker Tej, though aboard for their purloining capabilities, are essentially the comedy relief. They chide and banter until the very end. But sadly, the wit is no more diverting than the drama. It’s all about thumbing a nose at convention, and it gets old.
However, this is the point in the review where the critic digs deep and, to appear fair, finds something nice to say. More often than not, it means humming the scenery. Yet regrettably, aside from intermittently punctuating matters with a shot of the famed Christ the Redeemer statue, the filmmaker fails to creatively take advantage of the Rio locale.
Assuming it’s true that art reflects life, then we should avoid embarrassment in future millenniums by leaving this movie out of the time capsule. Spouting a delusional fantasy of bravado and defiance, if ever a film needed counseling, this is it. Misfiring even in the action department, the “Fast Five” series has now left all its good ideas in the dust.
“Fast Five,” rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Justin Lin and stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson. Running time: 130 minutes
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