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SYDNEY — Are we there yet?
The answer, sure to please a frothing Fast and the Furious fan base, is: not nearly. The wheels have yet to come off this car-crazy franchise and the fifth installment, set in a much grittier Rio than the recent screen version populated by animated birds, puts several more gallons of gas in the tank.
There may be more brains in your bucket of popcorn, but this gleefully silly smash-’em-up heist film is sturdy enough to restore much of the fan goodwill torched by the horror movie that was the Diesel-free The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Big crashes, lithe women and roiling testosterone, not to mention the addition of The Rock as a fire-and-brimstone federal agent – there’s plenty to pull in the (mostly) young male audience that’s shelled out a cumulative $1 billion over a decade to follow the turbo-charged adventures of a gang of street-racers.
Fast Five (also known as Fast and Furious 5 outside North America) is primed to equal if not better the $71 million opening weekend of its 2009 predecessor and, if a sixth film were not already in the works, that kind of coin would guarantee it.
Director Justin Lin, back for his third go-around, opens it up in top gear; a mere 30 seconds elapse before the first screech of tires rents the air. Showing the blithe disregard for the laws of physics and logic that defines the series, former cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) use a matching pair of hot rods to bust Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of a prison transport van.
All three go on the lam in Rio de Janeiro, where logic would dictate that Lin make the most of the city’s famously underclad residents and luscious beach backdrops.
But no. Instead, we get favelas and back-street garages and gun-toting bad guys. Lin knows, perhaps, that his target demographic can live without the surplus eye-candy; they come to see shiny muscle cars getting totalled and they would likely do so if Fast Five were set in Scranton, Penn.
While gearheads may be disappointed at the final tally of choreographed car crashes and have their patience tested by lengthy collision-free stretches, Lin serves up at least two set pieces that hit new heights of metal-crunching mayhem.
This is the most expensive installment yet and it’s clear the budget wasn’t used on acting lessons for the cast.
After making a mortal enemy of the city’s reigning drug lord, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), Dom and company find themselves in a jam that makes illegal street-racing look like kids’ stuff. With tank-like federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) hot on their trail and Reyes’ henchmen blasting at them with rocket-propelled grenades, Dom decides the only way to buy freedom is with $100 million of Reyes’ money.
So he assembles a dream team, calling in franchise favorites including Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) for “one last job.”
That’s about it for plot really, with the crew making an apathetic stab at nutting out a clever, Oceans 11-style heist strategy before reverting to type and just smashing through the obstacles.
Perhaps it’s just as well or audiences may never have been treated to the sight of a giant reinforced steel vault careening through the streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro tethered to a pair of muscle cars.
Screenwriter Chris Morgan peppers his dialogue-light script with a couple of good zingers and Johnson appears to be having fun with his overzealous staccato delivery.
Walker and Brewster are as one-dimensional as ever, even while harboring a little secret that may see us lumbered with a future instalment titled Fast and Furious: The Next Generation.
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