I watched “The Fast and the Furious” some years ago, and found it to be pretty stupid and mildly entertaining, but not enough to compel to me keep up with the all the sequels since then. I just don’t get that excited about muscle-y guys or muscle-y cars. So I can’t say much about all the other FF movies out there, but I’ll go ahead and go out on a limb: this one’s better than any of them.
Or maybe I just think it’s better because it’s scrapped the “we are more manly than you because we drive cars faster than you do” formula and actually put those fast cars to a decent use. “Fast Five” is probably the most formulaic of the series, but it’s a formula I like: it’s a heist film. Vin Deisel and co. have gone all “Ocean’s 11.”
The setting is Brazil. After breaking Diesel out of jail and stealing some cars from a train and some other gibberish and nonsense about babies and family and drug lords and whatnot, the muscly white guys find themselves in possession of a GPS that contains the coordinates of all of a big drug lord’s safe houses in the city. So they decide to rob them all. “We’re going to need a team,” O’Conner says to Diesel, and what a great line that is. We’re off, but not to the races. To somewhere exponentially better than the races.
But oh, don’t forget about The Rock, who’s after Diesel, etc. because some DEA agents died in an earlier heist. Diesel, etc. didn’t kill them, but The Rock doesn’t care. He’s going to kill Diesel, etc. anyway, because that’s what he does. Until it isn’t, but I don’t want to give away too much. There’s a great fight scene between Diesel and The Rock, which proves that both their heads are full of rocks. It’s fun.
A decent heist film needs a few things:
1. An interesting team. “Fast Five” does ok here, though it borrows liberally from “Ocean’s 11,” especially the comic bickering of Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. Some members of the team don’t seem to have much purpose, and I gather that they’re resurrected from previous FF movies, but that’s okay. They have personality.
2. A plan and 2a. A plan B, when the plan fails. These are there and sufficient, though it’s kind of weird to watch gravelly-voiced, oak tree-necked Diesel act like he’s two steps ahead of everyone else.
3. A ridiculous and entertaining setpiece at the end. This one involves dragging a safe through the streets of Rio, which I’m pretty sure would be impossible (those cars are geared to go fast, not to pull hard) but possibility really isn’t relevant in a movie like this. This setpiece is pretty great because it fits the movie franchise perfectly – there are fast cars involved, and a lot of glass gets broken and concrete gets smashed up. You don’t want anything too graceful or clever to happen in a “Fast & Furious” film. It would be weird.
And 4 – this is optional, but encouraged – a bait and switch on the audience, where you go back and show them what they missed. We even get that. Yes, “Fast Five” checks out. It’s not as clever or inventive as the best heist films, but it’s fun, and entertaining, and it carries you along on its insane, muscleheaded ride. It’s a decent heist film, and, for the ways it achieves what it sets out to do, a decent film, period. Much to my surprise.