Fast Five and I have something in common: We both have no use for the first four Fast and the Furious films. Abandoning the very element that defined the franchise, this latest sequel almost wholly does away with street racing, a change in direction epitomized by its heroes, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Blandy, er, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), visiting a Rio de Janeiro underground car scene (“Home sweet home,” muses Dom) and the film jump-cutting past the actual race that nets the duo some speedy wheels. Convinced that more of the same won’t cut it at this point, the film thus goes for safe reinvention, turning itself into the perfunctory love child of Bad Boys II and Ocean’s Eleven. Two rip-roaring automotive-themed set pieces provide the bulk of the blacktop action, bookending what turns out to be a turgid South American saga in which Dom and Brian—in retaliation for being backstabbed during a scheme in which they jacked DEA-impounded roadsters from a moving train—assemble a team of familiar faces in order to steal $100 million from nefarious Rio drug kingpin Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), all while being pursued by super-federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his sexy new partner and obvious Dom love interest Elena (Elsa Pataky).
“Too much, too little; it’s all the same,” says one of Dom’s comedic-relief sidekicks about explosives, and the same holds true for Fast Five’s plot, which is so shopworn that it only demands attention during those moments—of which there are far too many for a muscle-headed effort like this—when it strives for somber pathos. Those detours into gravity usually involve Dom spouting off about the importance of family, a topic that takes greater precedence than usual because Brian and Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), are expecting their first child. And Justin Lin’s film uses such concerns to merely window-dress what amounts to a rather standard-issue heist film that’s generally far less interested in vehicular craziness than the wisecracking repartee of its supporting specialists, including loudmouthed Roman (Tyrese Gibson), electronics expert Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), and something-or-other Han (Sung Kang), the latter’s presence—after his death in Tokyo Drift—again calling unwanted attention to the series’s unnecessarily screwy chronology. That’s still better, however, than being reminded of Diesel’s lack of charisma, with the star again sporting such a bevy of smug tough-guy glares and even more smug smirks that it’s soon impossible to resist rooting for the insanely muscular Johnson to wipe it off his face.
Predictably and preposterously, Diesel wins his mano-a-mano showdown with the bicep-bulging, vein-popping Johnson, a fight that ends with his crook establishing not just physical dominance but also moral superiority over the pursuing cop. So it goes for this dim-witted affair, which when not casting its outlaws as loyal, altruistic Robin Hoods (Dom uses his cut of the swindle to help a fallen comrade’s baby son!), often makes absolutely no sense, as when Reyes has his underlings look away while he punches in his vault combination—even though those same cronies just stashed all his money in (and therefore know how to access) said safe. Lin stages his introductory sequence and finale—in which Dom and Brian use separate cars to drag Reyes’s gigantic vault through downtown Rio, smashing any building or car that gets in their way—with escalating momentum and fender-bending brawniness. Yet otherwise, Fast Five is simply a wannabe-Michael Bay effort, replete with stock one-liners, military fetishism, and its protagonists taking up firearms against Reyes’s masked henchmen (who knew car racers were so adept with machine guns?). From unique to generic, it’s a gear-shift that may prolong the franchise’s life (a mid-credits coda confirms that a sixth installment is on its way), but, in the process, also renders it redundant.