Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Fast Five

It’s been 10 years since The Fast and the Furious power-slid into theaters trailed by mixed reviews but an overwhelmingly positive reaction from fans. Future installments, especially 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, were panned by critics but (in spite of mostly nonsensical plots and sub-par acting) the films continued to bring in big bucks for Universal – delivering the same over-the-top action sequences grounded in illegal street-racing culture that fans had come to expect.

Now, director Justin Lin is once again stepping behind the wheel of another Fast and Furious film (side note: he directed Tokyo Drift as well as Fast & Furious) with Fast Five. The film not only stars the fan-favorite pairing of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), but also brings back a number of familiar faces from prior installments – as well as introducing hell-hath-no-fury DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) into the mix. However, saddled with so many personalities in one film, does Fast Five still deliver high-octane action and an engaging story?

Fans of prior installments will be pleased to hear that Fast Five is probably the biggest and most over-the-top film in The Fast and Furious franchise. It’s not likely to win over many audience members who didn’t see any of the earlier films but, for anyone who likes muscle cars, beautiful women, and heist films, Fast Five delivers plenty of pulse-pounding moments.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic Fast Five plot, here’s the synopsis:

Since Brian and Mia broke Dom out of custody, they’ve blown across many borders to elude authorities. Now backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, they must pull one last job in order to gain their freedom.  As they assemble their elite team of top racers, the unlikely allies know their only shot of getting out for good means confronting the corrupt businessman who wants them dead. But he’s not the only one on their tail.

Hard-nosed federal agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) never misses his target. When he is assigned to track down Dom and Brian, he and his strike team launch an all-out assault to capture them. But as his men tear through Brazil, Hobbs learns he can’t separate the good guys from the bad.  Now, he must rely on his instincts to corner his prey…before someone else runs them down first.

While both Paul Walker and Vin Diesel are once again adequate as the leads in Fast Five, in a film packed with plenty of familiar faces, it’s Dwayne Johnson’s agent Hobbs – coupled with a competent heist script by Chris Morgan (Cellular, Fast and Furious) – that ends up elevating the project above many of the other installments. The rivalry between Hobbs and Toretto offers-up a number of interesting moments – which, despite plenty of cheesy and/or testosterone-fueled dialogue, successfully delivers intriguing moment-to-moment tension as well as larger character-focused story beats. Seeing the two heavy-hitters square off will, for most fans, deliver on all the hype the film has been receiving as a result of the pairing.

Vin Diesel and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in 'Fast Five'

The rest of the cast fills in the requisite heist roles (brains, brawn, etc) and, despite the large roster, still manages to avoid overwhelming the audience with too many stories. The side characters are mostly inserted for comic relief – and coupled with the in-your-face testosterone of the stars, it’s a nice relief.

The actual “job” itself isn’t the greatest caper audiences will ever see on film and there are plenty of potholes – as well as implausible scenarios. However, Fast Five moves quick and offers up a rapid-fire set of entertaining and humorous story beats – and, as a result, moviegoers probably won’t have enough time to dwell on many of the inconsistencies.

The film once again relies heavily on Toretto’s notions regarding loyalty and “family” – which lead to a pair of bizarre and altogether uninteresting side-stories that do very little to forward the narrative or the action. Everyone, meaning the core team of roughly ten people, is especially cavalier about the mission this round – which makes it even more bizarre to bog-down the reckless action stars with congratulatory hugs and kisses. As a result, Fast Five is at its best when it locks into the Italian Job-esque plot (albeit with a few less “brains”) – and is at its worst whenever melodrama and love is in the air.

Obviously, most Fast and Furious fans aren’t necessarily looking for a smart story with witty dialogue (though, it’s a shame because Morgan’s script this round is more polished than usual) so they’ll be relieved to hear that Fast Five delivers where it counts most: offering the biggest and best (albeit totally unbelievable) action of the series so far. The trailers spoil a number of the larger set-pieces (which involve words like cliff, train, and safe) but Lin still manages to offer a few surprises along the way.

The cast of 'Fast Five'

That said, muscle-car fans may feel a little cheated this round, since there’s considerably less focus on racing, augmenting rides, etc. – and a much greater focus on “the job.” Fast Five still spends plenty of time celebrating the speed-racing culture, but it’s more of a side-thought this round, rather than the primary drive for the story – and, though some die-hard fans might feel slighted, the film is better as a result.

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Fast Five will be releasing in IMAX in addition to regular screens – though it’s hard to understand exactly why. Unlike The Dark Knight (which utilized the format to immerse viewers in the Gotham City streets) or even Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (which bumped the robots up to a near life-size scale), the Fast Five scope is too claustrophobic and the action too frantic to really make use of the format (at least visually – since, admittedly, the engines sounded great).

Of course Fast Five isn’t going to take home very many wins from the award circuit, but the film delivers on its promise of over-the-top action, beefy meat-head bravado, and beautiful cars. The series has found new traction in the heist format, abandoning the stale and somewhat limited street-racing culture of the earlier installments – resulting in a fun and immensely entertaining ride.

If you’re still on the fence about seeing Fast Five, check out the official trailer below:

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Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Fast Five is currently playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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