Faster, furiouser and furiouser

cartoonish turbo-charged ballet of brutality

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel star in Fast Five, the latest film in the Fast and the Furious series.

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel star in Fast Five, the latest film in the Fast and the Furious series.

Cartoonish turbo-charged ballet of brutality

 

It’s rarely appropriate to reward narratively incompetent action flicks with three-star ratings, but when they transform cartoonish testosterone overkill into a turbo-charged ballet of brutality that has a certain winsome appeal . . . well, what’s a guy to do?

Fast Five is the fifth installment of the franchise that started innocently enough with The Fast And The Furious, which was set in the high-octane world of street racing. It starred Vin Diesel as Dom, a superlative driver who was also a veteran criminal. Enter Paul Walker as Brian, an undercover agent who infiltrated that drag-racing demimonde to throw an FBI net over the bad guys. As it turned out, Dom was a good-bad guy, and he and Brian have bonded over the years — so much so that at the beginning of this movie ex-cop Brian busts Dom from the bus that is hauling the poor fellow off to prison for a 25-year bit. (As it turns out, Brian is now married to Dom’s sister, Mia, which gives lots of opportunities for the scriptwriters to trot out platitudinous speeches about “the importance of family” in between car chases and slaughterfests.)

And just like in that other cartoon that opened in theatres a few weeks ago, jailbird Dom and lovebirds Brian and Mia fly to Rio to evade capture. They heist a trio of high-end cars to make some money, only to unexpectedly find themselves caught between a cold-eyed killer named Reyes and a “wrath of God” DEA agent named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Reyes, Rio’s most dangerous drug lord, is furious because one of the cars they scooped has a computer disc containing information about his drug operations. And Hobbs is on the warpath because he (mistakenly) thinks that it was Dom and Brian who killed some of his men during the heist. He’s so mad in fact that he flies down to Rio with machinegun-toting agents and an armada of pursuit vehicles to scoop them up.

From this point the merely preposterous plot goes into, ahem, overdrive, as Dom assembles an Ocean’s Eleven-style posse to steal $100 million from Reyes to teach him some manners. For his part, Hobbs tears through the streets and slums of Rio like he actually has some right to be there, leaving an impressive trail of carnage in his wake. Our gang of lovable thieves fall in and out of custody with an ease that can only come from a lunatic script, all while planning an amazing heist that, when it happens, destroys much of Rio’s streetscape. Bullets fly, blood spurts, cars tumble head over tail pipe like acrobatic dominoes — it’s Armageddon at 100 miles an hour. It’s also a surprising jolt of fun, full of droll quips and masculine bravado.

Johnson has emerged as a credible action star, and here, sporting a bald pate and that pro wrestler physique padded out with a bullet-proof vest, he’s a perfectly matched opponent for the bulked up and equally hair-challenged Diesel. When these two have their climactic battle — destroying half a warehouse in the process — it’s both staggeringly brutal and an inspired parody of Hollywood violence. It’s a scene that sums up the whole movie. At over two hours Fast does drag a bit — but when they put the pedal to the metal, the entertainment value is red hot. M

 

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