MOVIES | "Fast Five" sweats for success

Vin Diesel (left) and Paul Walker in Fast Five. Image courtesy Universal Pictures.

Watching Fast Five is like lowering yourself into a simmering pot of contemporary American male fantasies, and it smells like sinewy flesh, burning rubber, bikini wax, motor oil, and saliva. This is a world where when a man makes $10 million, the first thing he does is to bet it on a drag race and/or the spin of a roulette wheel. Scantily-clad women are everywhere, but the men just take the women for granted—what the men really want is to wrestle with one another in tight embrace, grunting and thrusting and sweating into each other's mouths.

This is the first of the Fast and the Furious quintology I've seen (a sixth is already in the works), and though the dialogue alludes to a back story, the plot here is just a throwaway frame on which to hang big chunks of meat: car races, heist scenes, and shootouts. Director Justin Lin provides these with aplomb, screenwriter Chris Morgan lubricating the load with uninspired but functional banter among the characters.

Hulking at the heart of Fast Five are Vin Diesel and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, whose perpetually sweaty pate is captured by cinematographer Stephen Windon with the loving attention that Richard Attenborough might lavish on a dew-laden leaf in the South American rainforest. The psychological challenges faced by 40-ish men have been a major preoccupation of mainstream cinema in 2011 (see: Hall Pass, The Dilemma), and it's refreshing to see Diesel (42) and Johnson (38) deal with their issues by scowling and shooting instead of whining and perving.

The two leads are surrounded by a diverse yet anonymous cast of helpers—kind of an Ocean's Whatever—summoned for their skills at cracking safes, blowing things up, getting underworld kingpins to fondle their asses, and so forth. There's a stolen chip and some drug money and...look, I could say more about the plot, but if you actually care about the plot, believe me when I say that you are barking up the wrong movie. Move along, move along.

This is a great movie, as long as you're looking for what it has so generously to give and you don't think too hard about it. For example, only after several scenes in which the team try to find a car fast enough to evade police cameras does it occur to them to just steal some police cars, which feat they manage with so little effort that they take the luxury of conducting a why-the-hell-not drag race with the cars through the streets of downtown Rio on their way back to their warehouse hideaway. Then there's the sequence near the beginning, where cars are stolen from a moving train via a mobile Rube Goldberg system that, predictably, goes wrong. At some point in designing their highly customized robbing-cars-from-a-moving-train truck, did these banditos (and bandita) not consider the probablility that these problems would arise?

But never mind all that. That sequence reminded me that one of the first commercially successful movies was The Great Train Robbery (1903). Maybe not that much has changed in the last 108 years: we still just want to sit in a darkened theater, eat popcorn, and watch men sweat.

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Jay Gabler's picture
Jay Gabler

Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR.