An outsider’s take on the ‘Fast’ saga: ‘Fast Five’ (2011) (Movie review)

T

hrough the end of May, I’m looking back at the nine movies of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, watching most of them for the first time. Next up is the fifth movie, “Fast Five” (2011):

STRENGTHS

The neatest thing about this third entry from director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan is that the gang’s all here. With so many franchises, we think “Wouldn’t it be cool if they brought back so-and-so?” “Fast Five” brings back all the major players from all the previous films – Vince from part one, Tej and Roman from part two, Han from part three, Gisele from part four — and they form one big family of not-so-terrible criminals. The colorful slums of Rio de Janeiro are an evocative setting. A rooftop and alleyway chase in a sprawling Latin American city may be an action-movie cliché, but “Fast Five” embraces it with gusto.

Hobbs and Dom smash through more walls than the battling Terminators in “T3: Rise of the Machines.”

WEAKNESSES

The rules of physics are left in the dust, namely when Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker), in cars built for speed, pull a bank vault at high velocity through the streets of Rio. The collateral damage is through the roof in “Fast Five,” starting with the rescue of Dom from the prison bus. The bus flips several times, and a newscast tells us that, miraculously, there were no fatalities. But that doesn’t change the fact that the protagonists recklessly endanger bystanders every time they get behind the wheel – and that makes them hard to root for.

COOLEST CHARACTER

Han (Sung Kang). Han’s perpetual coolness under pressure – yet without any cockiness – demonstrates why Lin kept him around after he was killed off in “Tokyo Drift” (which takes place later, chronologically). It’s actually believable that Han hits it off with smokeshow Giselle.

WOMEN’S ROLE

Mia (Jordana Brewster) has an intriguingly split role between the delicate mother-to-be and the crucial operations director on the team’s missions. Gisele (Gal Gadot) can drive with the best of them, something we didn’t know from the previous film. Diplomatic Security Service agent Elena (Elsa Pataky) lost a husband in the line of duty, and she bonds with Dom, who lost Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in the previous film.

VILLAIN

Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). The Brazilian drug lord is basically Ramon Salazar from Season 3 of “24,” only even more successful at crime. Reyes’ behavior is standard bad-dude stuff, like when he bludgeons a lackey to death.

TOO GOOD FOR THIS MOVIE

Elsa Pataky as Elena. She’s not necessarily a better actor than anyone else, but Pataky has a sexy Spanish accent. It makes me think she should be in a classier action franchise like the “Mission: Impossibles.”

MOST THRILLING SEQUENCE

The vault-pulling chase through Rio stretches believability in terms of physics (although the revelation that the vault is empty helps a little), and it’s distressing that Brian chuckles when the vault rips through a storefront, likely injuring bystanders. That said, it is fun to see everything get smashed up, and the vault-switcheroo revelation is cool.

THAT’S RIDICULOUS

Dom and his team find a perfect abandoned underground parking garage to set up headquarters. It proves ideal for practicing the maneuvers that will be needed for the in-and-out attack on the police station.

The group steals four police cars from a police station lot off-screen. It’s understood now that this is something they can do, and there’s no point in even showing such a basic mission.

When Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Dom fight in the 2010s answer to what Stallone-versus-Schwarzenegger would’ve been in the 1980s, one could easily forget they are human beings. They smash through more walls than the battling Terminators in “T3: Rise of the Machines.”

It’s never clear what the rules of the Diplomatic Security Service’s jurisdiction are. Prison-escapee Dom and his fellow criminals go to Brazil because it has no extradition treaty with the USA. One might think that the DSS can arrest Dom and company for stealing DEA cars in Brazil, however. If Brazilian drug lords are in their purview, certainly the theft of U.S. government property would be too, right? But on the first arrest attempt, Dom notes that they are in Brazil, not in America, and Hobbs backs down. But later he does arrest them, and it seems he has the legal right to do that.

Letty is alive and well, we learn in a mid-credits teaser. (This could be awkward since Dom murdered her supposed killer in “F&F4.”) Since we never saw a corpse in the last film, I suspected she might still be alive; and honestly, among the stupid things in this series, Letty’s survival is pretty far down the list.

CHEESIEST DIALOGUE

Roman: “Sexy legs, baby girl. What time do they open?”

Gisele (pulling out her gun): “They open at the same time I pull this trigger. Want me to open them?”

FAMILY VALUES

Mia is pregnant with Brian’s child, causing them and Dom (the child’s uncle-to-be) to think about the future. Dom, for ill-explained reasons, has a rift with old pal Vince (Matt Schulze), but later Dom welcomes him back as a member of the family. And when Vince is killed, “Uncle Dom” takes care of Vince’s wife and kid financially.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

Through four movies, it seemed possible that our heroes could die in a car crash. Now they operate their vehicles as if they are a second skin, able to jump out at the last second if need be. While they can’t control the collateral damage from their exploits, “Fast Five” dodges the question of whether they kill any bystanders. (Logically, the odds are good that they do.) Here is where each viewer must ask themselves: Is the over-the-top direction of this series a feature or a glitch? Most people like it. I had fun with “Fast Five” too, but I miss the (comparatively) character-driven simplicity of the first and third films. I suspect the next film might center on a Letty-Dom-Elena love triangle. But first, the writers have some ’splaining to do about how Letty is alive.

Schedule of reviews:

Saturday, May 16: “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)

Sunday, May 17: “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)

Wednesday, May 20: “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006)

Thursday, May 21: “Fast & Furious” (2009)

Saturday, May 23: “Fast Five” (2011)

Sunday, May 24: “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)

Wednesday, May 27: “Furious 7” (2015)

Thursday, May 28: “The Fate of the Furious” (2017)

Saturday, May 30: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019)