The End of Heroes
Where have all the cowboys gone, anyway? I’ve gotten behind most of the Fast & Furious movies because — with the exception of the appalling Tokyo Drift — they’ve been packed with thrillingly staged action and peopled with protagonists who walk that bad-boy line cagily enough to make rooting for them a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. But something is off in Fast Five (aka Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist aka 5ast and 5urious, and someone please make it stop). The mix is wrong. It’s all teetered far too far into the realm of the actively antisocial. There’s something deeply unpleasant about this latest flick that prevented me from enjoying all the stuff blowing up real good.
I also was unable to enjoy all the manmeat on display. But then, none of the beefcake here was ever to my taste, so I suppose I cannot blame this particular movie for that.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Maybe I’m tired of seeing people who Do Bad championed as heroes merely because the Bad they do isn’t That Bad. Or maybe the only place left for the Furious franchise to go was here. I started getting rubbed the wrong way — and lemme tell ya, that’s really uncomfortable — at the film’s opening gambit, in which former cop, former FBI agent, and current criminal Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker: Takers, Flags of Our Fathers) and his main squeeze, Mia (Jordana Brewster: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Annapolis), bust her brother and Brian’s pal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel: Babylon A.D., Find Me Guilty) off a prison bus, after he’s been sent up for 25 years to life with no possibility of parole. If I’m remembering my Fast & Furious correctly — and I believe I am — it’s not like he doesn’t deserve it. It’s not like Dom is wrongly convicted or anything. He’s just, I dunno, too cool for prison? He is Vin Diesel, after all, and any man named after a varietal of automobile fuel has gotta be awesome. Right?
So hey! Never mind! It’s all good! Chris Morgan’s (Wanted, Cellular) script delights in letting us know that, despite to horrificness of the prison-bus crash that director Justin Lin (Annapolis, Better Luck Tomorrow) stages for our viewing pleasure, there were no fatalities! Hoorah!
But 5ast 5ive — ah, the violence to the English language is perhaps appropriate when seen in context — won’t let it go. So I’m thinking the “too sexy for my responsibility to my fellow humans” thing is probably intentional. Cuz what happens next really bothers me. See, Brian and Mia end up down in Rio de Janeiro, which is where it’s at these days, apparently, where they hook up with Dom and some other pals from the old neighborhood and decide to do a job heisting fancy-schmancy sports cars from a moving train. Oh yessiree, the racing alongside a moving train and busting in which blowtorches and whatnot is all very exciting, I’m sure. But there comes a moment when Dom is about to make his escape (with the most special car in the batch, natch), and in run a couple cops bent on stopping this heist. Dom is cornered; he is absolutely, most definitely caught… except then one of the bad bad guys with whom Dom et al are working shoots the cops dead. And now good bad guy Dom can make his escape.
This becomes A Thing throughout the rest of the film, when superbadass cop Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson [The Other Guys, Tooth Fairy], pumped up to a terrifying degree) arrives on scene to bring in Dom and Brian and Mia, all now tops of the most-wanted list after their bus escapade, and also because now Dom has killed cops. See, local cop Elena (Elsa Pataky: Snakes on a Plane), Hobbs’ translator, becomes convinced that Dom cannot possibly be That Bad that he would shoot cops, and she’s not wrong: Dom is indeed not That Bad. But the movie needed to have those cops taken out if Dom was to continue as a character in the narrative… and the movie chickens out when it allows Dom to benefit from the deaths of those cops while also allowing him the golden badge of Not That Bad for not having actually shot them himself.
That sourness lingers over the rest of the film. At least for me. But it does seem as if the rest of the film would have fallen on its face anyway, out of sheer laziness. Your ass is already in the seat, so who cares if the film skips over most of the actual street racing that made the first movies so ridiculously exciting? Who cares if, in its place, we get a shoddy Ocean’s Eleven heist knockoff, the kind in which someone says things like, “We need a bisexual Martian who can pick locks and do improv,” and then someone else says, “I know a guy,” and then those requested talents never get used? Who cares if the Robin Hood aspect — the gang is heisting a drug dealer’s millions — gets lost in a level of civic destruction that would make Michael Bay blush, and would probably negate whatever societal benefit would come from bringing down a powerful drug lord? (Imagine Robin Hood nuking Nottingham Castle after tweaking the Sheriff, and you’ve got the overall impact of Fast Five in one.) Who cares if the unintentional subtextural homoeroticism makes you roll your eyes and just wish that the Rock and Vin Diesel would just fuck already and get over it?
This might be the worst thing, thematically speaking, in a movie that revels in its own soullessness: The big moment of triumph comes when Dom doesn’t kill a federal officer just to watch him die… after we’ve spent the whole movie supposedly in his thrall because he’s absolutely, definitely not the kind of man who would do such a thing. What’s heroic about any explanation for such a storytelling gambit?
• The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious (review)
• The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (review)
• Fast & Furious (review)
• The Grating Toretto, by Nick Carraway (Fast & Furious 6 review)
• Fast & Furious 7 (aka Furious 7) movie review: head-on vehicular hard-on
• Fast & Furious 8 (aka The Fate of the Furious) movie review: notes from the critics’ ward
• Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw movie review: everything wrong with the world today