Film Review: Fast Five

Fifth entry in the 'Fast and the Furious' series, this one in Rio, could be the best, with a muy macho cast and delirious action sequences delivering exactly what fans want.

A smashing addition to the Fast and the Furious franchise, Fast Five condenses everything good about the series into a state-of-the-art thrill ride. The film's testosterone-heavy cast and jaw-dropping action sequences will help boost the box office for what has become a money-making machine for Universal.

Fast Five picks up where Fast & Furious left off, with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) facing 25 years in jail, and lovers Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) on the run from the police. They end up in Rio, where Vince (Matt Schulze), a villain of sorts in the first episode, recruits them to steal high-end sports cars from a speeding railroad train.

This is the best train robbery in years, with stunts and reversals piling atop one another at an insane pace. It's matched in intensity by a chase over the roofs of a favela ghetto, one that pits Dom, Brian and Mia against an angry drug lord's killers and DEA agents led by an even angrier Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).

Scripting for Fast Five has improved considerably over earlier entries, primarily by ransacking the Ocean's Eleven playbook. To escape from both Hobbs and Reyes, Rio's reigning crook (Joaquin de Almeida), Dom decides to steal $100 million in drug money. He orchestrates a plan that involves crooked cops, the DEA and an impregnable bank vault. Key to the scheme: a sabotaged sewer line, a mini-robot car, a bikini worn by former Mossad agent Gisele (Gal Gadot, whose English has improved since Fast & Furious), and a widowed cop (Elsa Pataky) with a score to settle.

Dom's heist takes up the second half of Fast Five, leading to a pumped-up sequence of all-out mayhem in the streets of Rio, a crowd-pleasing showcase for tight editing and vivid special effects. The ending may shortchange racing fans, but it shows a new direction for the series, one that could justify many additional sequels.

Johnson's presence really sparks this entry. Looking like he's on the verge of steroid rage, he bulls through the movie like an oversized but still aerodynamic projectile. What he lacks in subtlety he makes up in commitment, jumping gamely into a punishing mano-a-mano bout with Diesel. But much of the cast is limited to what are essentially cameos with throwaway lines. Standouts include a jiving Tyrese Gibson, the suave Sung Kang, and a deadly serious Chris Bridges. Still, it's fun watching everyone, even de Almeida's oily villain.

Even when it's stalling for time, Fast Five is better than it has to be. Credit the outstanding production values, an enthusiastic cast, and the script's canny use of wish-fulfillment fantasies. Face it, the stars here would be dead a hundred times over in real life, but that's not what Fast Five is selling.