The 10-year run of the “Fast and Furious” roadshow isn’t slowing down a bit in “Fast Five,” by most measures the best of the bunch, combining fresh casting choices, interesting Rio locales and literally smashing bookended action sequences. With the street-racing gang on the lam, they must confront two forces — pursuing feds and an intimidating drug kingpin — that push their heist skills to new, genuinely exciting limits. Pic’s ideal balance of familiar and new will ensure high-octane theatrical returns, setting a breakneck pace for vid and ancillary down the road.
In a movie era lacking in many of the brawny leading men of the ’80s or the manly stars of the ’50s and ’60s, the pic’s match-up of Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson (first on opposite sides of the law, then drawn together as allies) reps a welcome injection of tough-guy vigor. “Fast Five” is an entertainment that knows it’s working, and it makes perfectly clear by the end (spiced with an uncredited cameo by Eva Mendes) that the Vin and Dwayne show isn’t over with this fifth entry in a series that looks as if it could go on for another decade, if everyone stays in shape.
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After breaking Dominic (Diesel) out of his 25-year California jail sentence by staging a massive prison bus accident on a highway, Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) head down to Rio, where partner Vince (Matt Schulze) has a new job lined up for them. But since it involves shady-looking cohorts, a speeding train and three hot cars under DEA jurisdiction, everything that can go wrong does in a brilliantly paced, suspensefully edited sequence flecked withbits of humor.
Dominic and Brian are captured by the king of the Rio drug trade, the appropriately named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida, smartly cast), who demands to know where his stolen cars are located. The two realize they’re up against a powerful bad guy with greater reach, more thugs and bigger guns than their enemies in the previous installments.
Escaping with implausible ease as soon as Reyes departs, the two reunite with Mia and discover Reyes’ computer chip, which contains the data on his entire operation. Enter Johnson’s intensely muscled FBI agent Hobbs, an uber-hip Dudley Do-Right type famed for never failing to hunt down his prey. He recruits Rio cop Elena (Elsa Pataky), since his thorough research has found her to be incorruptible and, having lost her husband in the line of fire, highly motivated. Typical of the pic’s rigorously maintained pace, Hobbs’ unit soon raids the racers’ hideout in a Rio favela, initiating some terrific stuntwork (supervised by Mike Gunther) amid obliterated shanty houses.
Even as Brian absorbs Mia’s news that she’s pregnant, Dominic drops his plan on them: Pull a world-class crew together for a heist to rob Reyes of his $11 million cash holdings. This includes some of the more memorable supporting characters from previous episodes, such as loquacious Roman (Tyrese Gibson), safecracker ace Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and racer extraordinaire Han (Sung Kang), along with Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Dominican buddies Leo (Tego Calderon) and Santos (Don Omar).
Director Justin Lin (who helmed the franchise’s past two entries) is interested in the geometrics of the heist — which actually comes in two variations, the latter far more complex than the former — and the complexities of the crew having two different opponents. The second half of “Fast Five” elaborately and humorously plays out the back-and-forth tactics that ultimately lead to a stunning finale chase sequence spanning much of downtown Rio, and seems inspired in part by a similarly spectacular scene in “Bad Boys II.”
The inevitable fight between Diesel and Johnson, which practically oozes sweat, is far from the movie’s climax and doesn’t even suggest the plot turns to come, indicating how much more developed Chris Morgan’s script is than the standard action fare. It also suggests that the sixth entry could be something worth waiting for, especially since Johnson works as a perfect counter to the easy bond between Diesel and Walker.
Audiences in Brazil are likely to respond to “Fast Five” in a slightly different way than in other countries, since the pic will trigger for them fresh memories of local B.O. champ “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within,” which similarly depicted the deep corruption among Rio cops vis-a-vis the drug trade M- though the BOPE, Rio’s own SWAT team and the heart of the “Elite Squad” movies, is nowhere to be seen in “Fast Five.”
Production package is exceptional.