Fifth time’s the charm.
After four previews outings, most of the characters introduced throughout the franchise arrive in Rio de Janeiro to help Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), and Mia (Jordana Brewster) make one final score to fund their freedom from the law before disappearing forever. Their target is a drug lord named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) with millions in cash stashed all over town. They have a plan to steal it, but can they can avoid being taken into custody by a US-funded bounty hunter named Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his team while avoiding all of Reyes’ loyal minions at the same time?
Not many film franchises can boast that their fifth installment may be their best. Its starting entry, The Fast and the Furious, filled a neglected niche in the Hollywood blockbuster machine: insanely fast cars racing around and periodically getting wrecked. Not content to show just muscle cars and tricked-out imports racing and drifting, the meat and potatoes of the franchise has been its code-of-honor heroes who don’t strictly obey the law but aren’t really bad guys. The films have also been good to its stars, Diesel and Walker, who’ve both had limited success in other genres but can’t seem to top themselves as just two good ol’ boys never meaning no harm.
This installment not only brings together the largest group of previous cast members for the series but also borrows heavily from the Ocean’s Eleven remake and sequels to pad all the racing with a heist film. This introduces a whole series of new elements, including high-tech vaults, misdirection, sneaky plans within plans, and just enough story to deliver the goods without getting too cerebral. Not enough? How about a knockdown, drag out fight between Diesel and Johnson? No matter how far it goes, it never seems to be too much or take itself too seriously.
The ads weren’t kidding when they billed Fast Five as the official start of summer in spite of a pre-May release. It’s quite possibly the perfect popcorn flick and has already kick-started an anemic 2011 box office into high gear. It’s also set an April record and a high bar for freshman franchise entries like Thor and Captain America: the First Avenger. Now that the smoke is starting to clear, the next question is, where does the franchise go from here, if anywhere? Like all the previous installments, stay after the credits for a peek of what may already be in the works (and try not to imitate what you just saw on the way home from the theater).
(a four skull recommendation out of four)