Fast Five (2011)

It what could have easily been the quickest cash-in of 2011, Fast Five shifts into fifth gear and offers up a film that is more about well-developed character relationships than car chases. It’s the flip side of Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol, a film lean on action, but high on developing a memorable and engaging ensemble cast.

The returning trio of the film makes up the emotional core of the film. After busting Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) from prison, his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) and her boyfriend ex-federal agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) run off on their own in and take up a job in Brazil which the two only scarcely escape with their lives when Dom shows up to distract the double-crossers. The deal gone bad pits them against Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the seemingly untouchable drug lord.

It’s this premise that sets up the one last job which will allow the trio to live as a peaceful family in anonymity. In order to put it off, Dom hires the best leading criminals. From the constant one-upmanship of frenemies Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Ludacris) to the playful professional romance of chameleon Han Lue (Sung Kang) and gun export Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot), the film takes the times to make these arcatypes memorable, not so much in there attributes but in their relationships between each other.

But the show-stealing performance is by Dwayne Johnson who plays the role of uber-macho special agent Luke Hobbs who’s tasked with arresting Dom, Mia and Brian. Johnson chews and spits out every line with an infectious bravado and he carries himself as if he’s at least a hundred pounds bigger than his own already considerable physique. The end result is an unrestrained, gleefully cheesy performance that Johnson embraces wholeheartedly, making it one of the most enjoyable and infectious performances of the year.

Even the film’s potentially throwaway villain, Hernan, is memorable for his sneaky approach to business and his philosophy of how the charade of benevolence is simply a trap to keep a population dependent upon his malicious graciousness.  He’s a character who gets little screen-time, but doesn’t stop him from being a provoking and interesting villains.

In fact, the film spends so much time with the characters and teasing out their relationships that the film’s action setpieces aren’t always as well realized or executed as they could be. Part of this is due to the overreliance on CGI which makes some of the conceptually engaging moments of the film ruined by the cheap, plastically feel of artificiality.

Still, director Justin Lin refrains enough from the overindulgent kinetic editing and shaky camera of Fast & Furious to make the action watchable and enjoyable in Fast Five. More reliance of wide shots and a good eye for keeping action in proportion makes this a much-improved action film. Where theaction excels is with using action to hide, divert or usurp audience expectations. One of the film’s best moments is when it builds to an action scene and simply cuts to the aftermath, creating a playful, cheeky moment which keeps the audience on their toes.

Fast Five is a blast. While it’s not nearly as much action as Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, the ensemble cast is so enjoyable and the film so fun that it’s actually nice that the film spends more time with the characters than lost in a sea of crashes, fights and explosions. While it’s not the most meticulously crafted action film of recent years, it’s probably the most fun.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing