Vin, baby, can you please crack a smile for us? Just one? No? Are you sure? Because the stone-cold seriousness with which you and the rest of the Fast Five gang go about your work really kills the buzz. You have to know what a farce it all is. Your high-octane antics in these movies have no more resemblance to reality than your average Road Runner cartoon. It would be fantastic if only you could show us that you get it! Stop posturing, quit reminding us what a bad-ass you are, and acknowledge that sizzling homoerotic tension between you and Dwayne Johnson before it sets the screen on fire. We’ll all have a lot more fun, trust me.
I really feel bad picking on the Fast and the Furious movies because they rarely fail to entertain. It’s just not the kind of entertainment the filmmakers clearly have in mind. They truly seem oblivious to the series’ outrageous excess, leading us to laugh at them rather than with them. It creates a mean-spirited feedback that kills what should be a nice little exercise in the ridiculous, as Vin Diesel and his increasingly puffy gang of cronies saddle up for one more trip into street racing pornography.
The fourth installment left Diesel’s lovable car thief Dominic Toretto on a bus to the slammer while his buddies scooted up in their tricked-out Hondas to bust him free. Apparently, their big plan was to create a spectacular crash that (we are assured) kills no one and leaves not a single prisoner loose except for Toretto himself. The gratuitous hand-waving necessary to sell us on this piece of balderdash continues as the fugitives depart for Rio, where the local crime lord (Joaquim de Almeida) gets all up in their grill. They respond by planning to steal his vast warehouse of money, prompting a lot of shameless riffing on the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and resulting in one of the single most face-palming chase scenes since Bad Boys 2.
The supreme idiocy on display really wouldn’t matter if the film just bothered to acknowledge it. Fast Five includes some impressive stunt work, along with a lot of very sexy cars that go boom in an extremely satisfying manner. That is, presumably, the purpose of the exercise. And yet the film repeatedly departs from that in order to engage in excruciating “character development” that consists of one-note delivery followed by a tough guy pose. The filmmakers bend over backwards to sell us on the emotions, which deflates the inherent camp value and leaves sad pathos in its wake. We’re left speculating on bizarre visual cues, like why Johnson’s DEA agent is perennially drenched in sweat while his quarry, Diesel, is always dry as a bone. (And for the curious, yes: the pair do throw down at one point. I’m not telling who wins.)
All of that’s to be expected, of course, as is the PG-13 waffling on things like civilian casualties and implied sexuality (courtesy of another batch of actresses starved to the point of emaciation: shame on you Hollywood!)That was all on display in the first four Fast entries, and you could really replace this review with one from any of the previous films. But the truly bizarre thing – the one that really sets heads a’scratchin’ – is the way Fast Five tones down the cars themselves. Oh we see plenty of them, wedged into the gang’s caper in the most expedient manner possible and serving as the centerpiece for the Goofus Maximus climax, but for the first time, they feel absolutely superfluous. It was like the screenplay included them solely because it was expected to, rather than any bearing they had on the story or characters. The film dare not stand on those two assets, of course, rendered with the crudity of a six-year-old mashing up crayons on the kitchen floor. But neither can it draw our eyes back to the chases and stunts: desiccated and detached despite their ludicrous excess, and leaving nothing but recycled mayhem in its wake.
The smallest of tweaks might have saved it all. A twinkle in the eye, a grin on the lips, a look from someone – anyone – that says “isn’t this silly?” One flash like that, and the fun can take over: letting us shut off our brains and enjoy the idiocy as God intended. The wink-wink nudge-nudge costs absolutely nothing, and yet puts all those expensive crack ups in perfect context. No one associated with Fast Five is secure enough to indulge it. Their glowering stares demand that we treat it all as life and death, and in so doing crush any chances of deriving real entertainment value. Some people never learn. Some franchises too.