Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:35 am 
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Slugs and hugs

Summer blockbusters come in different colors. The comic book superhero epics satisfy those who like to watch musclebound representatives of good in lycra unitards trumping evil in CGI- expanded battles. The "Fast" series is something else again. It lets us hang with the bad boys and their babes, guys with grease on their hands who like to race muscle cars. The "Fast" movies are all about machismo and camaraderie. The latest in the franchise begins, as before, with the alliance of an ex-cop, Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and an ex-con, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). Don't even think about who's the bad guy. Fast Five opens with Toretto getting sprung -- via a spectacular bus-car wreck, naturally -- on the way to jail. Then they head down to partner Vince (Matt Schulze) in Rio and he sets them up to participate in a super heist to liberate fast cars from a freight train, as spectacular as it is implausible -- and fraught with extra dangers when the DEA turns out to be custodians of the cars. The rest of the story transpires in Brazil.

After being captured and literally strung up by the head of the Rio drug trade, Brian and Dom resolve to get back at him and seize his wealth. The villain is one Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Continuing the blurring of moral lines, even Reyes isn't all bad. He wins the hearts and minds of favela-dwellers by providing them with education and medical care. Having found a computer chip in a car that reveals the secrets of Reyes' operations, Brian and Dom organize a colorful team brought in from stateside. It includes Sung Kang, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and lots more, including franchise alums Matt Schulze as Vince and Gal Gadot as Gisele). The plan: to stage that one last caper by grabbing the bulk of Reyes' dough, a pot estimated at $100 million. Enough to make them, well, financially independent, I guess. Meanwhile due to the car thefts, Dom's arch enemy DEA agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) comes down to catch Dom -- but (another blurring of lines) he teams up later with Dom and Brian to get Reyes.

Luke tries to arrest Dom at one point in a crowded place but Dom tells him he can't do it. "This is Brazil," he says, pronouncing it the Brazilian way, "bra-ZEE-you." Guns are trained on Luke by the gang's allies. "That's a lot of heat," says Luke's soulful local female ally (Elsa Pataky), a bereaved lady cop Dom has also formed an an alliance with. Luke walks away, his dignity intact. In their face-off Dom and Luke stood so close they could have kissed.

This movie is as enjoyable as it is implausible. When the multi-racial American gang sets fire to one of Reyes' money stashes, he consolidates the rest -- at the central police headquarters' vault. Who knew that Rio had state of the art cop cars, and ditto vault? The boys sneak a remote-controlled toy car into the police station to suss out the vault. The way the vault gets stolen is outrageously far-fetched, but the beauty of it is that, as always in this francise, the fun involves racing cars, and Brian never deserts Dom.
"What a mess!" Hobbs declares at the end of the chase -- and the mess includes a world of destroyed property and a heap of dead bodies. No matter: they get away with it, and Reyes gets trumped and fleeced. The caper is a disappointment, though. Even the lame but stylish Takers had something more satisfying, in caper terms. Its robbery was absurd in its Rube Goldberg complexity but it did all try to connect. If you think of a really great caper film like Jules Dassin's Rififi or a great bank robbery film like Michael Mann's Thief, the writing and the action of Fast Five leave much to be desired as suspenseful crime narrative. We have to be satisfied with the kinetic excitement alone, and the fact that Vin and Paul and the supporting cast are charismatic.

The movie is a feast of togetherness. There is much emphasis on family ties, parenthood, and the warmth of brotherhood. There are roof-hopping favela chases and kids with automatic weapons out of City of God, but along with the slugs there are lots of hugs. And the cinematography by Stephen F. Windon, featuring an appealingly distressed-looking earth-toned color scheme, is as warm as the bad-boy relationships. It's all in the family: Brian's girlfriend is Dom's sister, Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster). They do a triple hug at the end. Mia's romantic dream for her and Brian is to settle down in a country with no extradition treaty with the US. She's pregnant: a happy little family is coming. Luke lets them walk, for now. But he'll be coming -- and so will a sequel.

Moving the action to Brazil this time injects the right fresh note into this, the fifth film in the series. Due to the involvement of gangsters and a major crime caper there's more shooting in this than any prevous "Fast" movie. But the reunion of many previous regulars as well as the hot Latin setting establish a cozy atmosphere. There are more slugs, but also more hugs. In delivering a constant cycle of dazzling action sequences and still maintaing the charisma and love with rich production values and a large and interesting cast, Fast Five could be the "Fast" francise's best iteration yet, and it delivers excellent summer entertainment. Of course it lacks the subtlety of the best crime-action films of the past, but as blockbusters go, it satisfies, and without wasting a single yard of lycra.
┬ęChris Knipp 2011

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