Saving the best for ‘Fast’

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“Fast Five” is like “Inception” created for a“Jersey Shore” audience.

What is more shocking than that union is that it’s not a bad move. It only took producers five tries, but it seems this one gets it right.

For we are now in our fifth outing with the gears, girls and guns franchise known originally as “The Fast and the Furious,” and for all intents and purposes, the treads on the series’ tires should be quite thin by now. But somehow, “Five” defies common cinematic laws and manages to become the most entertaining, coherent and flat-out fun installment to date.

Picking up right where the fourth, “Fast and Furious” left off, “Five” bookends itself with a go-for-broke action sequences and zips from one souped-up scene to the next in the remaining minutes. For those who are thinking, “But not having seen the previous film(s), won’t I be missing all the dramatic intricacies and subtle nuances of the plot?”, fear not. While the film does presume its audience is familiar with the leads and their various backstories, this ain’t “Lord of the Rings” here, and you can easily fill in the gaps. (Or even better, create your own!)

Vin Diesel is front and center as car thief Dominic Toretto, sprung from the big house by buddies Brian (played by Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster). They all flee to Rio to escape certain imprisonment. While there, they decide to lay low as anyone would: by planning an elaborate heist of a local crime lord (played by perennial crime lord character actor Joaquim de Almeida, who played the heavy in “24,” “Behind Enemy Lines,” and “Desperado”).

To do this, they assemble a guest list of fan favorites from the previous films, but none of them worth noting in any detail, for they serve as pedal-pushers through the picturesque Brazilian backdrop.

They are also being doggedly pursued by federal agent Hobbs, played by the film’s best upgrade — Dwayne Johnson. Demonstrating that, yes, there is in fact room for yet another bald, sweaty muscle-man in the series, Johnson is easily this franchise’s desperately needed spark plug.

They also shift away from its car-racing roots to heist movie mode, which gives more dramatic thrust to the whole affair. It also allows director Justin Lin to crank up tension with more elaborate stakes for its leads, and an opportunity to steer from its car-centric theme. Not that cars are not revved, sped, crunched, and occasionally flown throughout the picture, but its no longer the only vehicle to build suspense, and Lin gets just as much out of foot chases and interpersonal dynamics as screeching wheels and fractured fenders.

There are breaks to breathe, but not many, as Lin seems to finally understand the fundamentals of summer action films, and keep things streamlined throughout. “Fast Five” is a car film that even non-gear-heads and newbies to the franchise will find thrilling. It’s hard to imagine it, but it seems like the fifth time is the charm, and as improbable as it may be, it deliciously sets up a sixth after the final credits.

And I never thought I would commit these words to print, but I am actually pumped to see it.

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1 Comment

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