Solid action, potholed plot

2011-05-09 00:00

HOW do you keep a franchise fresh? No doubt this is a key question asked by many film makers in their challenge to keep fan bases happy. Fast 5, the fifth in the Fast and Furious series, is a hybrid of both heist and muscle car genres. On the surface it seems well-suited to this development.

The main protagonists, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), were always masters at grand theft auto and the deeds of the charismatic criminals were somehow justified when compared to the corrupt and dumb-ass authorities.

The focus this time, though, is not cars but rather millions of bucks, stashed away in a police vault owned by a ruthless Brazilian druglord-cum-politician. Using Rio as a backdrop, the film flits between the favelas, the city and Copacabana.

Cars and heists, like in The Italian Job, come together in the climactic getaway and Fast 5 doesn’t disappoint. The sequence is well-devised, startling and at times downright unbelievable. Coupled with the opening sequence, involving the theft of some cars from a moving train, Fast 5 certainly offers something new on the action front.

The strength of the FF franchise, though, was not only based on great action sequences but also the challenges faced by the lead characters, living their machine-fuelled fantasies.

As in The Godfather and indeed many crime films, the family are the ones who suffer and the FF franchise managed to create some dimension to their characters in the exploration of the theme.

In this latest version, however, this development is stymied by too many differing plot strands that need resolution.

Firstly, there is a reunion of characters from the previous films who form the heist crew. This provides some lighter moments and Dom refers to them as family, but they come across merely as diversions. There are contrived subplots involving both Dom’s friend Vince and a Brazilian female cop that are clunky and a pointless scene between Dom and O’Conner talking about fathers that is frankly oversentimental and cringe-worthy. Yet another complication involves federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his team trying to capture the speedsters.

The overall effect of these plot shenanigans is a film that does some handbrake turns and hits a few potholes.

But my dramatic preferences aside, I think diehard fans will love it, and as action movies go it’s better than the average fare. ***

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