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Better than it should be

As over-the-top heist movies go, 'Fast Five' fares well.



You can be forgiven if during the "Fast" franchise you've missed a couple of installments. There have been now four sequels since the seminal "The Fast and the Furious" put the scare into Americans that their streets would be overrun by drag-racers with fuel types as surnames. That scenario didn't come to pass, but the odd-couple duo of wanted man Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and L.A. cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) have since gone on to wreak havoc in Los Angeles, Miami, Toyko, Mexico – and now, in "Fast Five," they've managed to invade Rio de Janeiro, bringing along a regular "Ocean's 11" gang of street-smart hoods in order to pull off One Last Job. Fast cars? Check. Fantastic stunts? Check. Hot women and a pulsing, percussion-heavy soundtrack? Uh, it's Brazil. Frankly, "Fast Five" serves up nearly everything you could want in an over-the-top heist movie. Yep, summer's here.

For a 130-minute film, "Fast Five" feels, well, fast, and it's clear early on that director Justin Lin, making his third "Fast" movie, has no time to dwell on anything dull. The first couple of minutes (don't miss 'em) get us from the end of 2009's "Fast & Furious," when Dominic had just been sentenced to 25-to-life and was on a prison bus. Suffice it that buses in these films are made to be flipped; Dom escapes, and all involved, including Brian and his squeeze, Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), flee to South America. The trio intersect on a job that sees them cutting open the side of a moving passenger train to extract some muscle cars (it's as jaw-dropping as it sounds). Then, whoops, some of the guys they're working with turn out to be real scoundrels, henchmen of Rio's most powerful drug kingpin, a corporatized thug named Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Some American drug agents who were escorting said cars are killed, and as the United States doesn't take kindly to fugitives who whack drug agents abroad, Uncle Sam sends down unabashed meathead Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock) to bring Dom and Brian to justice.

Those two, meanwhile, have decided to cripple Reyes by robbing him blind. Enter their team of tech-savvy, lead-footed crooks; devotees of the series will recognize Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Matt Schulze, Tego Calderon, Don Omar and the double-take-worthy Gal Gadot back in their familiar roles. It's not a given that a cast of rappers, models and athletes would gel as well as these players do, and it sounds ridiculous to say so, perhaps, but Vin Diesel's acting chops hold this thing together. Unlike the pro wrestler he matches wits against, Diesel seems like he's been here before, in a good way. His sleepy-eyed calm keeps the movie chill enough that its engine doesn't seize.

Since the good guys (Dom, Brian) are really bad guys who are mostly good, and the bad guy (Hobbs) is really a good guy who's mostly good, it's not a stretch to see them teaming up against the bad guy who's really bad (Reyes). But even if you can see that coming from a quarter-mile down the road, there is no way, absolutely no frickin' way, you're going to guess how the screenwriters get everyone through the final act. In the storied history of movie car chases, there are maybe a dozen that qualify as truly immortal. Surely there have been better car chases in cinema, but there are none more audacious and ludicrous (with an "ou") than what caps "Fast Five." You won't believe a frame of it. Still, you won't help but enjoy it.

— Sam Eifling

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