The fifth instalment of the decade-old Fast & Furious film franchise is highlighted by an action scene that has stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker driving over a cliff in a muscle car, then jumping free of the vehicle into wild air, five hundred yards or so above a churning South American river.
And look, even the heaviest mass - tank-in-a-T-shirt Diesel - travels at the same speed as the pretty, lighter ones (the sports car and Walker): thrilling proof of Galileo's discovery that all objects fall at the same rate.
That's it for higher learning in Fast Five. The rest of the 131-minute, car-racing film is adolescent guy date histrionics - screaming tires, snappy putdowns and, because we're in Rio, an occasional influx of bodies beautiful in Band-Aid bikinis.
The movie begins in full throttle, with former lawman Brian O'Conner (Walker) and his girl, Mia (Jordana Brewster), on hot rods, extracting imperturbable criminal mastermind Dom Toretto (Diesel) from a speeding prison transport van.
With the law on their trail, the trio takes a powder to South America, where it gathers a slouching, photogenic pit crew, which includes Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), Giselle (Gal Godot) and a pair of enterprising locals, for "one last job" that will set them free and clear. A heist - $100-million in cold, hard cash, baby. And all Dom's delinquents have to do is rip off the mob, elude a corrupt police force and stay a few blocks ahead of a ferocious, fast-pursuing U.S. federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, raining sweat like a sprinkler).
"We just went from Mission Impossible to Mission Infreakingsanity," Roman exclaims, handicapping their odds for success.
Doesn't matter. Dom is through hiding. "Running ain't freedom," he explains, paraphrasing Kris Kristofferson.
Filmmaker Justin Lin, who also directed the previous two Fast & Furious instalments, stinkers both, has finally learned that the series works best when it is most congenial. In addition to a flashy guest star (Johnson), the latest instalment has a surprisingly relaxed, egalitarian feel. This is the sunniest of all F&Fs, with at least a half-dozen sequences where the gang hug it out. Furthermore, Ludacris, Gibson, Godot and Chang all get a scene or two to steal.
That last part is a good idea, because fish suspended in a winter coma are more animated than Diesel, who sometimes can't be bothered hoisting his tongue to the roof of his mouth when speaking. And the perpetually juvenile Walker still looks nervous around girls. Way too callow and unassertive to be a car-racing badass.
Then again, these unlikely action stars are probably the reason F&F has grossed close to $1-billion worldwide, keeping Universal Studios afloat. For any kid can imagine himself being Paul Walker. Lift some weights and drink a lot of protein shakes and he can dream of being Vin Diesel.
Perhaps more important, the film series imagines a world where nice boys befriend and hang out with baritone bullfrog bad guys. A world where gas and girlfriends are plentiful. And dad never wants the car back.
Always preposterous though never actually silly, knowingly funny without ever being self-conscious, Fast Five is a passable action flick that will more than entertain its core audience. Or anyone else who likes a little petrol on their popcorn.
- Directed by Justin Lin
- Writen by Chris Morgan
- Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Sung Kang and Tyrese Gibson
- Classification: PG
Special to The Globe and Mail