Copyright 2011 by William A. Mays, Proprietor
"Fast Five" is the movie version of what happens when an attractive woman goes out on the town with a friend who is heavier and less good looking than she. The attractive woman becomes even better looking by comparison. Whether the latest installment of the "Fast" franchise employs this device intentionally or not is open to debate. Either way, it is employed effectively.
The first time it's used is right in the opening scene. It is scenes like this that fill one with dread for what might be coming over the next two hours. Space restrictions prevent detailing everything that's wrong with it. Suffice to say if you are stuck in traffic and miss the first five minutes of the movie, consider yourself lucky. "Fast Five" actually begins in earnest as soon as the train appears. This scene is the better-looking friend, and we fall into her arms with a sigh of relief. Vin Diesel makes an appearance in that ugly appendage of an opening scene, but his introduction in the train scene ranks with the best appearance-of-the-star moments in movies—real John-Wayne-in-"Stagecoach" stuff.
And so it goes. Throughout the film, mostly in the first half, there are scenes of expository dialogue so badly written and stiffly acted they may as well have been in some late-night drama on the CW network. But again, these scenes make you savor the real action all the more once it finally arrives. And once it arrives, you are in for a top-notch treat. With the exception of the opening scene, and a caveat with the climactic scene to be discussed later, the action rules. For example, the movie takes place—as it seems every third movie does these days—in Rio de Janeiro, and a sequence utilizing the corrugated metal rooftops of the mountainside housing shows that director Justin Lin knows exactly what moviemaking is all about, once he puts his mind to it.
The pretty girl/plain friend dynamic extends to the acting as well. Vin Diesel is a decent actor, perhaps not on the level of a Daniel Day Lewis, but he can command a movie well enough. His co-star Paul Walker, on the other hand, has trouble acting his way out of a wet paper bag, and so makes Vin look that much better by comparison. Enter Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who is nicely cast as an all-business U.S. federal agent who outdoes Vin on bicep circumference. Think Tommy Lee Jones with roid rage. Johnson's own acting ability is wholly dependent on whether he's cast in a role he can handle, so credit Lin with knowing where Johnson's strengths lay.
Often in genre action movies, the plot tends to be either nonexistent or ridiculous. This one is a standard in which both the cops and evil criminals are after our heroes. So it was a pleasant surprise when the first major plot point in "Fast Five" managed to spin the storyline around while remaining plausible. Other twists work well enough, though the plain friend will keep making appearances as soon as you think you have her pretty friend all to yourself. How the gang was able to obtain police cars, for example, can only be explained by either lazy script writing or a desire of the producers—in a don't-try-this-at-home moment—to not let the general public know how you could really steal a police car.
In the climactic action scene the plain friend makes another appearance. This scene doesn't just defy physics and then move on, it relentlessly and obnoxiously defies physics for 10 solid minutes without stopping. That said, it is interesting to watch, which right there sums up the whole movie: ridiculously implausible or lame moments that you don't care about because the moments that work make it all worth it. The scene in which they obtain the handprint of their arch-nemesis comes to mind.
A solid denouement leads to the plain friend's final appearance. The whole thing leads up to a point where Vin Diesel is to deliver the film's closing line, and you're led to expect something relatively profound. But what he actually says ends up so lame and forgettable you practically forget the beginning of the sentence before he gets to the end. A disappointing way to go out for sure. But don't be fooled. We generally don't give out spoilers. So suffice to say stick around after the credits begin to roll.
We're giving this movie three Police Gazette medals, though if it could be proved that lame scenes and actors were juxtaposed with effective scenes and actors with the intentional purpose of enhancing the latter—that there was method to the madness—then it would get four medals for exhibiting a kind of crazy genius.
|Police Gazette Movie Review
With Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by Justin Lin
3 Police Gazette medals
Five medals: You will think of this movie every day for the rest of your life.
Four medals: A well-crafted work of art.
Three medals: Some parts don't work, but gets the job done.
Two medals: Garbage in, garbage out; bad approach executed with technical skill.
One medal: Don't see. It'll make you want to die, and assisted suicide is illegal.