There are two especially satisfying action sequences in Fast Five, the latest entry in the Fast and the Furious franchise: one involves a daring railroad robbery in which the characters drive their automotive swag off a fast-moving train and into the desert, the other is a bank heist that sees our heroes steal an entire vault by attaching it to two cars and driving off, swinging it around city streets like a wrecking ball.
These sequences defy most laws of physics and logic, but damn: they´re just fun. Credit goes to director Justin Lin and his crew behind the camera for staging and shooting these sequences in a way that actually conveys a sense of where the characters are in relation to their surroundings, rather than the chaotic flash-bang mess we usually get in the modern summer blockbuster.
And if there was a third such scene, I´d even give Fast Five a pass. But no. One of the big action sequences occurs towards the beginning of the film, the other at the end, and in-between there´s an hour-and-a-half of dead weight dragging the proceedings down. Things are spiced up a little with the occasional chase scene or shootout, but we´re otherwise left to suffer with characters and plot when all we want is balls-to-the-wall action.
The original film, The Fast and the Furious, was an enjoyable B-movie with a memorable conclusion that focused on the underground drag racing scene in Los Angeles. Subsequent films have travelled the globe with little regard for continuity (the third film, Tokyo Drift, featured almost no returning characters from the first two); instead, the series has always been about fast cars, hot chicks, and sweaty machismo with that inescapable gay subtext.
With the return of more and more characters from the previous films (some of them even return from the dead), this fifth film helps the series find its footing while further divorcing it from the original: no longer a mid-budget drag racing flick (there´s only one such race, and it´s so inconsequential you may not even take notice), this is now an Ocean´s 11/12/13-like heist film. Only they´re all the drivers. Still, there´s plenty of cars, chicks, and throbbing masculinity to appease fans of the series.
Picking up some time after the events of Fast & Furious, the confusingly-titled fourth entry, Fast Five starts with a bang as former cop Brian O´Connor (Paul Walker) and girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) overturn a prison bus to spring Mia´s brother Dom (Vin Diesel). The parties separate, with Brian & Mia heading down to Rio de Janeiro to hide out with Dom´s old friend Vince (Matt Schulze, returning from the first film).
The team soon finds themselves in possession of a computer chip containing the financial data of corrupt Brazilian businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). With Reyes on their trail, they plot to rob him of untold millions, recruiting a team of racers from the previous films to help them do it. Along for the ride are Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift, and Gisele (Gal Gadot) from Fast & Furious.
If that weren´t enough, Dom and co. are also on the run from FBI Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock), who is cooperating with local authorities to hunt them down. Johnson, who knows what kind of movie he´s in, takes things half-seriously and eats up the screen; the rest of the cast flounders between broad comic relief (Roman and Tej, and also Leo (Tego Calderon) and Santos (Don Omar)) and low-key coolness (Diesel and Walker, at times, are nearly lifeless leads). Even de Almeida, usually a reliable villain, fails to make much of an impression.
A saggy, overextended midsection full of needless plot details and character moments turns Fast Five into a bit of a drag, but the accomplished scenes of action make the film seem better in retrospect; rare for a summer blockbuster. You get what you expect out of this film, which is more than the average testosterone-fueled actioner, less than the surprisingly palatable first, and long, long way from the truly satisfying car-chase odes to masculinity like Peter Yates´ Bullitt and Walter Hill´s The Driver.
And: Fair Game, Doug Liman’s solid take on the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson/Scooter Libby spy affair starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. However, it appears to only be screening in a handful of Czech cities outside of Prague.