Take One: Michael L
Justin Lin’s Fast Five is a masterpiece of gasoline chugging, machine gunning, twisted metal summer movie mayhem.
Seriously. It’s the perfect that movie; it’s been perfected to an art form, distilled into this: loud, brass, funny, sexy. It defies all logic and intelligence, and yet it works.
It’s American trash cinema, channeled by way of American cartoon logic into American Mythology. Here is the domain of the Movie Gods: all sweaty, muscular, bronzed male warriors, and callipygian, jiggling, tough string-bikini’d chicks (and callipygian is a real word! it means shapely buttocks!)
Crack open its skull, and you’ll find a glans instead of a brain. But it’s full blooded, baby, and damn it all if Fast Five doesn’t articulate its interests and intentions with more excitement and skill than the majority of its high-minded compatriots.
So what are its interests and intentions?
Breasts. Car crashes. Gun fire. Foot chases. Car chases. Breasts. Asses (callipygian!). Smug one liners. Sweat. Car crashes. Explosions. Chases. Breasts, breasts, breasts.
Rub, rinse, repeat.
The story tells the further exploits of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), the former a career criminal, the latter former FBI Agent turned best friend of Dominic and love interest of Dominic’s sister, Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster, the best thing about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning).
(For more information, see both the original The Fast and the Furious, and its third sequel, Fast and Furious; the other two sequels, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, have nothing to do with the plot line of these other three films. Confusing, ain’t it!)
The trio decide that it’s time for them to leave this outlaw life behind and begin anew somewhere where the police cannot find them.
In order to do that, they decide that they’re going to steal every last penny from corrupt multi-billionaire Hernan Reyes. They set up a team of terrifically well drawn one-dimensional cartoon characters to aid them in their heist (and that is not an insult: I would argue the subsequent characters are not lazily written, they are just efficiently written…think your average Street Fighter ensemble, and you get the idea)
But they’ve got one major problem in the form of Dwayne Johnson. That’s right, the Rock himself has a bone to pick with our group of skilled drivers/action movie stars. Mainly that they have been (falsely) accused of killing several police officers, and it is up to Johnson’s Luke Hobbs to track them down, and bring them to justice.
And thus, the die is cast: what we’ve got here is a heist movie, a police chase movie, and a car racing movie all rolled into the ultimate of summer movie teenage hard-on cinema.
It works. It’s never boring. It’s more than just a diversion: it’s the ultimate diversion. If you’re feeling tired this week, or slightly distressed about something in your life, or just want a night at the movies, but don’t know quite know what movie to pick, you could do far worse than buying a ticket to Fast Five.
Doesn’t matter if you like this franchise. Doesn’t matter if you care about cars, or if you even like action movies at all.
This loud, excited, triumphant ode to the cult of movie masculinity will win you over.
Consider this: I’m at ends with this howling, braying dog politically. Everyone whose anyone in the world of Fast Five sports a crucifix (and even Johnson’s character is described as being “Old Testament: all bullets and blood and redemption”).
Only it’s macho, tough guy, street Christianity, and bares very little resemblance to anything you’ll find in the gospels (“And Jesus said ‘only filleth your enemies with machine gun bullets if they are douche bags’ “)
The crucifixes don’t symbolize Christ in any real way but to identify the good guys from the bad guys. It’s very similar to vampire movie symbolism, and the core cast here is just about as questionably sane and actively aggressive as any vampire hunter worth his chops (what’s with all that obsessive penetration, guys?)
The word “reductive” comes to mind, but it really doesn’t matter. It charms the PC right out of you with a curvaceous backside here, an explosion there, Paul Walker grinning over all of it with his trademarked “gee-whiz, I can’t believe this is happening!” smile.
It’s hetero-normative, cartoon Christian, American western pornography.
It doesn’t have a subversive idea in its head; it insists its characters’ morality comes from their devotion to a Higher Deity, even when they’re exploding more automobiles than Michael Bay could imagine in his most fervent wet dreams.
The action takes place in Rio de Janeiro, and every so often the camera will fly over the watchful Christ statue that stands above the city, arms outstretched in that final, definitive Loving embrace.
Yet, the more times they fly over that statue, the more they reconfigure its significance into the movie’s own syntax: it’s not that Jesus is standing back and embracing the action (or even basking sorrowfully over the chaos).
His arms are spread because he’s deciding when and if he should jump.
That’s not suicidal, either. It’s the currency of the Action Film.
These are characters where martyrdom isn’t the question: the question is when.
The movie insists its about family, and that all of the bloodshed is for something Higher: for love, for family, for religion.
Whatever. They could be doing all of this for any reason really (I think I saw this movie once before when it was called The Devil’s Rejects), and it wouldn’t goddamn matter.
Because Americans have a love affair with the outlaw. The rebel. The character who says “screw it” to modern life, to the constraints of modern living, and just takes off into the wild blue yonder, eight cylinders blaring, to a land of orgiastic hedonistic mayhem. The lair of the syrens, the domain of fantasy cinema.
It’s worked before. It works better here. It’s the best movie of it’s kind.
There’s a scene where Vin Diesel is fleeing on foot from the police. He jumps off the roof top of one building onto the lower roof of an adjacent building, and the action nearly comes to a standstill, framing this epic Action Stunt in swanky slow motion.
Only then, another figure bursts into the frame: the hulking, sweating, furious frame of Dwayne Johnson, who, rather than jumping off of the roof, has simply jumped through a window, and is now right behind Vin Diesel, covered in shards of glass.
He’s faster, he’s bigger, he’s more one dimensional, and he is the only threat in this full-blooded Wily Coyote-Road Runner chase movie.
It can pretend it’s about whatever the hell it wants, but at the end of the day it is about that: the chase.
To its enormous credit, Fast Five is reverent of the cartoon sagas that first populated the kind of insanity brand this film perfects.
When Johnson is told there is “good news and bad news,” he retorts “you know I like my dessert first.”
Followed closely by, “but give me the goddamn veggies.”
This film has no time for the goddamn veggies. Thank God.
Take Two: Sean Collins-Smith
OK, so you’ve just bought a ticket to the ridiculously titled Fast Five (or, as my good friend Dallas would write, Fast 5ive). Chances are, if you went to the theater to see this bad boy, you knew what you were in for.
I certainly did: Cars and Dudes galore, both sporting not only impressive muscular structure but scantily clad chicks who will prove they love both Wheels and Men if the price – and the ride – is right.
But Fast Five, the fifth in an increasingly potent series that’s ruled the Car Genre for the last decade, still doesn’t disappoint. For whatever reason – be it the exhilarating action, the cheesy dialogue, or the stubborn non-use of CGI – this cacophonous concoction of heist film and racing flick leaves you smiling all the way to your pathetic, street-legal vehicle.
And why shouldn’t it? It’s Summer, ladies and germs, and what better way to start out the season whose gluttonous, cancerous case of Sequel-itis knows no bounds than with a loud, obnoxious, over-the-top testosterone-fueled version of Ocean’s 11?
What really interests me – and perhaps speaks to my character as Just Another Guy – is how I found this to be a ridiculously good time, but didn’t have the same reaction to another arguably “it’s bad but it knows it” film, Sucker Punch. It’s possible I’m just a sexist hypocrite who’s completely unwilling to embrace the idea of a throwaway film starring a bunch of chicks beating the shit out of people, but who’ll readily foam at the mouth when a gaggle of guys gather their crew together for One Last Job.
It’s in my blood, methinks, to accept the latter and dismiss the former.
I’d like to think, though, I’m a little less predictable (and sad) than that. After all, I’d rate Kill Bill above both of these pieces of nonsense, not only for its expertly crafted action scenes, but for its innate capacity for cutting away at female caricatures and presenting us with positively unique perspectives on Women Who Kick Ass. (Perhaps, also, where Zack Snyder finds solace behind bits and pieces of male geekdom – dragons, samurai, runaway trains – Tarantino finds solace behind the whole gamut of pop-culture. He’s got a Master’s in Pop-Entertainment, while Snyder’s got a B.A. in glossy, geeky wet dreams.)
Fast Five unfortunately relegates the women in the movie to roles of cliche regularity: they’re here to be on a guy’s hand, behind the wheel of a guy’s car, or keeled over a sink experiencing the side-effects of carrying a guy’s child.
That’s neither here nor there; Fast Five doesn’t purport to be as numbing as Sucker Punch or as artistic as Kill Bill. It’s shown up to give you two hours of adrenaline-fueled fun, stopping occasionally to let the audience catch its breath while it adds minimal amounts of the requisite cinematic ingredients: a plot, a couple of love stories, and good ole’ fashioned T ‘n’ A.
Where I think Fast Five holds a higher standard (I use the term laughably) than Sucker Punch is in its bones: for all its cool, calculated and metallic fixtures, Five is an inherently warm, earthy film. All these cars, people and locations scream reality. Not real as in, say the laws of physics (Newton would shit himself silly), but real as in these things on screen actually exist. They don’t rely on the CGI wizards up the road to furnish the finished product with 90 percent of its images.
With Fast Five, what you see is what they filmed. It may not necessarily mean the high-octane proceedings are high-quality, but it does mean something.
If you’re keeping count – certainly, Universal Pictures is – Fast Five is in actuality the fourth film chronologically in this street racing franchise, as it comes smack dab in between Fast and Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. I haven’t seen either one of those in their entirety, but the beauty of watching any of these flicks is that you don’t have to. They’re each shrink wrapped individually and thrown into a giant container from which you can pick and choose as you see fit. (For the record, the last F&TF film I watched all the way through was the gutsy, minimalistic 2001 original.)
Fast Five picks up exactly where Fast and Furious left off: Dom (Vin Diesel, gravelly voice and all) is going to prison in a bus full of prisoners, and his team is hightailin’ it down that desert road to perform a dangerous yet necessary stunt to free their leader and get the hell out of Dodge. After a hilariously perilous crash that sees the bus roll for an eternity, we find out that – gasp! – no one died and Dom has successfully escaped with his crew. They’re now all on the lam.
What this opening scene – and certainly the rest of Fast Five - conveys is a sense of B-Movie Mortality, where the good prosper and the bad (or momentarily weak-willed) perish. Those prisoners on that bus broke the law, sure, but when their transportation tumbles about like an aluminum can caught up in a Category 5, not so much as one passenger is killed.
Our heroes don’t kill people, you see (unless of course they’re protecting somebody). They’re thieves, not murderers, and at a time when the U.S. economy is as fragile as it’s ever been, the idea of grabbing eleven million bucks from someone who obtained it through dirty, dastardly deeds seems unquestionably orgasmic.
Here, the baddies include a business leader named Reyes, who owns the police and most of Rio, and, to a lesser extent, a DSS Agent named Luke Hobbs, played to hammy perfection by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. His addition to the franchise is a welcome one, as he not only adds a jolt of bad-assery to an aging franchise, but he also provides some steamy, unexplored sexual tension for him and Vin Diesel.
Because, honestly, these are two of the most muscular, manly, gladiatorial hunks of meat you’ll ever see on the silver screen. The Rock, with his shaved dome and velcro-quality goatee, and Vin Diesel, donning that Cross like the Franchise Savior he is, were meant for each other. And when they exchange wonderful one-liners for the first forty five minutes, you’ll swear you’ve never so anxiously awaited a fight scene in your life. Their quips are the Fast Five equivalent of mano-a-mano foreplay, and the audience’s tension is palpable. When they finally tussle in a torrent of wall-busting, grunt-inducing brutality, everyone but the heartless will have a healthy, hearty boner.
This is why you go to Fun Movies: to see two marquee meatheads duke it out in a manner that looks about as choreographed as a stumble down the stairs. Forget Ip Man or Star Wars: Episode III - these guys really show you how to fight. As icing on the cake, there’s seriously got to be some kind of record Fast Five breaks for wall demolition: at least 9 of them are destroyed as these B-movie macho men doll out dubious amounts of dude sweat and flying fists. (I’d like to think this is some metaphor for Fast Five breaking barriers, but really it just looks Really, Really Cool.)
But, much like the above-mentioned bus crash, these proceedings have nary a consequence (not that you expect them to). You’d think after they were done relentlessly pounding each other (double entendres are fun!) their faces would look like something akin to ground mush, but minutes later they’re back in action with no cuts, bruises or missing teeth.
The reality is that Fast Five is the cinematic representation of Grand Theft Auto: it’s all fun and games…and that’s it. There’s no “until someone gets hurt”, because unless you’re a nameless thug or a Mexican Kingpin, you won’t get hurt. And maybe that’s where much of the intrigue and franchise-worship comes from: you go to see Fast Five to pretend that you can rob a corrupt dude, drag a safe with expert precision through the streets of Rio and escape with your rail-skinny pregnant girlfriend to a sunny beach somewhere.
You never once have to consider the consequences, not when The Rock and his group kill dozens of people, or when Dom and O’Connor (an always-wooden Paul Walker) demolish every cop car in the city and singlehandedly destroy an entire bank (that almost certainly had customers inside of it).
Rather, just consider this: FF is unapologetically masculine in its fast and furious presentation. This makes the film – and all of its participants – a crafty, unassuming early-Summer treat. It’s not pretentious or prickly, relying instead on its undoubtedly skillful set pieces that let it pander to The Men Who Like Action and The Women Who Like The Rock/Vin Diesel.
And, much like it’s title, Fast Five oozes sumptuous simplicity, so while it might leave your mind faster than the cars Dom and his crew confiscate, it doesn’t mean FF didn’t rock your world during the 120 minutes you spent cruising its slick and stupid streets.
4 stars out of 5