We haven’t tried to review movies here at TTAC since Bertel rejected my piece on Ai No Corrida with the single sentence “Go home, delete that file, and then kill yourself,” but that won’t stop me this time. Fast Five is out, and it hits its marks as precisely as Jenson Button does in wet qualifying. It’s not Senna, and that’s a good thing; instead of being mired in the past and catering to old people, Fast Five lives, awesomely, in the youthful present.
Even if it’s supposed to have happened seven years ago.
To make sure that I gave the newest street-racing superfilm a fair shake, I invited a bona-fide star from the original movie to watch it with me. Those of you who are fast and/or furious with the pause buttons on your DVD players may notice a wingless white Toyota Supra prowling around during the “Race Wars” segment of F&F 1. The fellow standing by the car during the Johnny Tran scenes still owns it, and he also owns half of my Plymouth Neon racer, so naturally we had to see if this new movie was granny-shifting its plotlines or double-clutching the excitement like it should. Spoilers, as they say, are below.
At its best, as with the first and third movies, Fast and Furious is less about street racing and more about what Robert Bly called “the shortage of father in American life.” The protagonists are all fatherless, either through death (Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto), absence (Brian O’Connor, played by real-life NASA racer Paul Walker), or abandonment (Sean Boswell, Lucas Black’s character in Tokyo Drift). They are searching for family, creating their own allegiances on the run. Eventually, they all find what Bly calls “the second King,” a man to replace their fathers. Boswell finds “Han”, a character so popular with fans that the entire franchise was shifted in time post-Tokyo Drift so he could be included. O’Connor finds Toretto and, as we eventually come to understand, Toretto finds himself.
This time, fatherhood plays a more explicit part in the story. Mia Toretto is pregnant with O’Connor’s child, and it’s time to settle down. They find Vince, a throwaway character from the first movie who is now living in Rio with a family of his own, and they began to plan a heist which will set them up for life. Things go wrong, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson arrives on the scene, playing ‘Hobbs’, a take-no-prisoners Federal marshal. You know that Toretto and Hobbs are going to square off at some point, and the movie does not disappoint in that regard. The director does a masterful job of hiding the size differences between Diesel and Johnson. Not since DiCaprio and Hounsou fought in “Blood Diamond” have I seen an odd-sizes scrap this masterfully staged.
Naturally, there has to be some suspension-of-disbelief car racing and street mayhem involved. The second and fourth movies fell prey to an obvious temptation and made the action the central focus. 2 Fast 2 Furious, in particular, does not have a script so much as it has a series of “levels” from a video game. This time, the silly stuff — off-road trucks which snatch Ford GT40s out of moving railway cars, endless between-the-poles drifting, a two-hundred-ton bank safe towed by two Dodge Chargers — serves the plot rather than dominating it.
That plot, in turn, serves the purpose of reassembling the favorite cast members from the past four movies. They’re all here, and if you stay past the credits you will see that I mean that — they are all here. Ludacris and Tyrese return as wise-cracking Handsome Black Men. Sung Kang is once again “Han”, and the four new faces, played by two cross-ethnically gorgeous women and two hilarious Latino guys, fit in well. Joaquim de Almeida plays Reyes, the traditional South American bad guy, and it doesn’t take long to realize that there are going to be three violent forces in opposition here — Toretto’s crew, Reyes, and Hobbs.
The ending satisfies on pretty much all counts, even it it is a bit Return of the Jedi compared to Tokyo Drift’s “Empire” take on things. It’s probably the most enjoyable of the five movies in this series to watch, and if Tokyo Drift is a better and more resonant movie in some ways, this is far more fun. The automotive focus is mostly on Mopar products and the occasional Nissan, although a 996 GT3 RS clone shows up for a few minutes around halfway through. It’s not an art-house film, and plenty of armchair racer-thugs will have quibbles with the fighting and driving scenes, but it’s worth your ten bucks to watch.
For the record, my pal Mark pronounced it “the best one yet”, and given that he earned a buck making the first one, that has to mean something, right?