In 1978, Richard Donner’s Superman made you believe a man could fly. Justin Lin’s Fast And Furious 5 will make you believe a bus can roll without injuring anyone inside, that a man can be punched through a solid brick wall and still come out the other side with his shirt still gleaming white and intact, and that it’s possible to surf on the back of a falling muscle car. Well, almost.
Fast And Furious 5 has absolutely no regard for realism, but then again, anyone who’s watched the previous four car-crazy, largely plot-free films will know that the series has never had much time for physics or logic.
Following a dramatic prison break (which, naturally enough, requires the skillful manipulation of powerful cars), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are on the run in Rio, hiding out in the city’s seedier quarters as hulking agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) attempts to track them down.
When an attempt to steal some exotic cars from a moving train goes awry, Dominic and Brian find themselves on the wrong side of criminal overlord Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a man so powerful he can stash his millions of dollars’ worth of drug money in the local police station.
Backed into a corner and determined to escape Rio with Reyes’ money, Dominic and Brian hatch a cunning plan to steal it, and recruit old Fast And Furious franchise stalwarts Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Han (Sung Kang) to help carry out the heist. The plan, you may have guessed, involves the skilful manipulation of powerful cars.
So much for the plot. If you’ve forgotten it already, fear not – Fast And Furious 5 is the kind of film that doesn’t merely require suspension of disbelief, but the ability to simply nod along with every insane turn of events that occurs.
There are car races, car chases, car crashes, explosions (including a hideous one in a police station toilet), fist fights, shootouts and more car crashes. The opening sequence alone sees the destruction of an entire town’s worth of vehicles in a tornado of twisted metal and glass; and just when you’re thinking, “How the hell could anyone survive that?”, the scene cuts to a news reader helpfully informing us that “Amazingly, no one was hurt.”
This is the most audaciously, wilfully absurd film I’ve seen in a cinema since last year’s The Expendables, and I make that comparison favourably. Where, say, Machete treated its ridiculous action premise with a knowing wink, Fast 5 simply grits its teeth and charges into the realms of absurdity with a completely straight face.
Vin Diesel growls every daft line of dialogue with seat-rumbling seriousness, while Dwayne Johnson plays his steadfastly determined lawman with biblical fury. If, like me, you’ve been quietly wondering who would win in a fist fight between Vin Diesel and the man formerly known as The Rock, Fast 5 will give you an idea. Extremely well shot by Lin, Diesel and Johnson fight so brutally you think that the whole of Rio might be about to sink into the ocean.
Then again, Fast 5 as a whole is deceptively well made. Its script may leap from the cinema’s speakers like something from a Fisher Price action movie screenplay generator (patent pending), but in terms of technical skill, this is occasionally stunning stuff, and the increased budget – this is the most generously financed film of the series yet – really shows.
The rather dreadful CG-assisted car chases that marked earlier series entries is largely absent, and while some may mourn the almost total loss of the illegal street races, ladies in bikinis and loving shots of nitrous oxide cannisters seen in previous films, the sheer pace and scale of this entry’s action is more than ample compensation.
There are, however, a few problems. At more than two hours long, the bits between the action sequences tend to drag; there’s at least one scene of heart-rending emotion that could have easily been sent drifting to the cutting room floor, and no matter how old Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster get, they don’t get any better at acting.
If you really wanted to gripe, there’s a feeble, Diesel-powered romantic subplot that goes nowhere, and Joaquim de Almeida makes for a rather nondescript villain, largely because he’s only in the film for approximately four scenes.
Fortunately, Justin Lin is a director far too hyperactive to allow more than a few minutes to elapse between action scenes, and just when the film appears to be losing its momentum, along comes another gigantic car crash, or maybe Dwayne Johnson with a machine gun and a scowl.
More than any film of the last 12 months, Fast 5 made the audience I sat with gasp, laugh and applaud regularly and unapologetically. Johnson, in particular, uttered a line that gained the kind of rapturous response I briefly thought might be followed by a standing ovation.
There are several things I definitely cannot say about Fast And Furious 5. I can’t say concise. I can’t say that it’s intelligently written, or particularly well acted. But as a larger-than-life action movie that has the requisite budget to total an entire city’s worth of cars, I definitely can say this is high-octane, supercharged stuff – stuff that had my inner 12-year-old clapping along with goofy, wide-eyed appreciation.