Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Fast and the Foolish -- Reflections on "Fast Five" (2011)

Is it possible for these two to survive a 200 ft. drop in a river after jumping from this car? It doesn't matter.

This is the first Fast and the Furious movie I've seen. Somehow I've managed to avoid watching these movies since the first one back in 2001 -- don't know how that happened.

Here were some of my random observations:

1) Is it possible to flip a police bus with a stopped car?

2) How does a person jump from rooftop to rooftop from heights in excess of 20 feet and NOT break their legs?

3) Can you fall from 200+ feet and survive if you land in a body of water?

4) How can characters start a movie poor, hungry, and homeless manage to acquire enough funds to finance a heist operation?

5) Is it possible to get the shit beat out of you and have no bruises, cuts, or swelling?

6) Why are modern bad guys always businessmen?

7) Is it just me, or is every cop from a foreign country in the movies corrupt?

8) Does Vin Diesel know how to speak in sentences?

9) Are all women this shallow?

10) Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?

From this list, you'd think that I thought Fast Five, from director Justin Lin, is a piece of crap. And you'd be right. It makes about as much sense as a short story by a 7th grader.

But, as far as pieces of crap go, it's fun, exciting, and extremely likable. Essentially, this movie is a polished turd, with excellent direction, sound editing, and physical effects. If you go into it with the mindset that the whole thing is absurd and impossible, you'll come out of it laughing and happy. That's what movies are meant for anyway, right? A two-hour escape. I don't know if Fast Five will be the best escapism of the Summer -- I highly doubt it -- but it definitely doesn't disappoint.

Basics: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) are America's Most Wanted after they orchestrate Dom's escape from prison. They head off for Rio de Janiero where they get entangled with a drug lord named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who wants them dead, too. In order to gain freedom, the trio assemble a group of friends and orchestrate a heist of Reyes' fortune. Meanwhile, the trio is being actively pursued by super federal agent Hobbs (The Rock), whose "Old Testament" methods cause loads of trouble for our renegade, Robin Hood heroes.

Where's the Car Racing? If there was any complaint I could have about Fast Five, it's the dearth of car races. The film series, from my understanding, started in the street racing underworld. Fast Five dips into this underworld, which is apparently thriving in Rio, but every opportunity the movie has to show actual racing it balks. Except for one scene, in which most of our male heroes race down an empty city street in stolen police cars. I understand the producers of the series wanted to get away from the predictability of the racing scenes in the first four films, but I didn't think they'd change identities completely.

I Get It -- We're in Rio: Like most movies, Fast Five feels the need to establish its setting by showing the standard landmarks. When movies are in Australia, we get the Opera House. When we're in Russia, we get the Kremlin. In Paris, we see the Eiffel Tower. And in Rio, we have to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. I understand the director wanted to quickly establish Rio, but they show this statue no less than three times during the movie, while characters are constantly talking about Rio. After a while I began to think every mention of Rio, visually or otherwise, would make for a good drinking game.

It's a Tone Thing: After the movie, I was wondering why I liked Fast Five so much, but hated movies like Twilight and Transformers 2 so much. All three are popcorn movies that require you to shut your mind off to enjoy. To say I liked Fast Five almost makes me look like a hypocrite, especially since there are some plot holes in this film big enough to drive a 20-ton bank vault through (which they do, literally). My reflection led me to realize that the reason I enjoyed this film versus the others is due to its tone. Twilight and Transformers seem like pretentious popcorn entertainments. It's almost as if the directors are trying to make it seem like they are saying something important or poignant. Transformers wants you to not only buy in to the concept of fighting robots, but see them as important, wise, and thematically rich. Twilight is much the same, as Bella's struggles are treated with the same heaviness of a Jane Austen novel. Fast Five is not pretentious. It doesn't pretend to be smart. It knows its a silly escape, but never winks at us about it either. It plays the story seriously, but has tons of fun. As a result, we can't get annoyed when Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have a monosyllabic heart-to-heart conversation about their daddies. The conversation isn't used to develop character so much as to remind us that these are characters until the next action sequence when we'll need to be worried about their survival or freedom.

If you're looking for fun in the movie theater, Fast Five is easily on the short list of movies worth shelling out 12 dollars for. It may even be worth a Slushie and Milk Duds, too.

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