Fast Five started Summer 2011 with a bang this year, shocking audiences everywhere by being actually rather good. The Fast and the Furious franchise had been steadily declining in quality since the first film in 2001, unless you count The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which was so tangentially related to the rest of the series they could have named it Season of the Witch. So it was a pleasant surprise that Fast Five bucked that trend by not only being better than the previous film – not that it would have been hard – but also by turning out to be at least as good as the first film, and arguably even better. Fast Five comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray tomorrow, so let’s take this opportunity to review the Blu-Ray edition and take a closer look at the movie that defied expectations.
By the time Fast Five came out the Fast and the Furious franchise had become a thorough mess. What began as a fun knock-off of Point Break (but with cars!) segued into mindless nonsense with 2 Fast 2 Furious and the fourth film, Fast and Furious, in particular. The series had devolved into plotlines so trite and nonsensical that even remembering what happened in the fourth one would require hypnotherapy. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was a fun movie, but ignored the rest of the franchise entirely until basically the last shot, and exists primarily as a standalone Karate Kid-type adventure for the whole family. By Fast Five, the people behind the series wisely realized that basing more than a couple of movies on street racing was pushing their luck, until somebody apparently remembered that the first film was as much a heist movie as anything. The creative juices really started flowing when they reached a second conclusion: that the Fast and the Furious series now had a sprawling ensemble cast which could be mined for a refreshing group dynamic.
And so they made Fast Five, which reunited characters from each entry to date, even Tokyo Drift, and sent them to an exotic location to steal from a mutual antagonist, played by Desperado’s Joaquim de Almeida. Street racing appears only briefly, and half the time off-screen since by now the filmmakers know we’ve been there, done that and already given the t-shirt to Good Will. Fast Five follows the traditional heist mold pretty closely, with a group of disparate personalities with unique talents coming together to pull an already complicated job which just gets more difficult as time wears on. Where Fast Five breaks that mold is the lack of tension between the protagonists. Normally, these kinds of dream team heist movies feature at least one protagonist who betrays the group and/or aligns themselves with the bad guy. Since The Fast and the Furious movies have a hard on for the family dynamic, having any of the existing characters from the franchise turn on their friends would seem like a betrayal to the audience as well, so they cleverly added another antagonist, played by Dwayne Johnson.
Johnson’s character, Agent Hobbs, is like a 1980’s action movie version of Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. In any other movie he’d be the hero, and from his own perspective he still is, creating a fun dynamic that allows him to join the team at least briefly in the final action sequence. But he’s mostly there to fight Vin Diesel, in what the special features on the Blu-Ray frequently equate to a tussle between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in their prime. That’s a stretch, since Diesel and Johnson only have a handful of good action movies between them. (Diesel has Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious, Johnson has… I dunno, The Rundown maybe?) This is more like Steven Seagal fighting Jean Claude Van Damme, or from a story perspective Spider-Man fighting Wolverine, since they’re both portrayed heroically enough that we know they’ll have to come to an understanding sooner or later. In fact, despite the ensemble cast the entire movie feels like a B-Movie that lucked out. When Tyrese Gibson and Paul Walker represent some of the biggest stars in your super team you don’t have a recipe for A-List success, but Fast Five succeeds anyway thanks to charming performances, a plot that twists without falling prey to silliness and memorable action sequences. It’s a blast.
Fast Five power slides onto Blu-Ray in an excellent audio/video presentation that utilizes all your speakers to their fullest and offers a pleasing amount of detail. More importantly, the Blu-Ray has been tricked out with a wide variety of special features. They’re a mixed bag, though. Justin Lin’s commentary is dry but somewhat informative, and fits nicely with the featurette On Set with Justin Lin, which provides an in-depth look at the pressures and frustrations involved in one of Fast Five’s less spectacular stunts. The spectacular stuff gets its fair share of coverage, however, particularly in Inside the Vault Chase, which impressively examines the real-life carnage and curious challenges posed by the film’s bizarre but pleasing climactic car chase. Less impressive is the self-congratulatory Tyrese TV, which plays like a comedy sketch without the comedy, as Tyrese Gibson bounces around the set trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to get the rest of the cast to mug with him on-camera.
The Blu-Ray of Fast Five comes with an “Extended Cut” which adds little of consequence to the film but doesn’t drag it down either. I suspect you’ll have a hard time even guessing what was added without the aid of the commentary track. Most importantly for a Blu-Ray release, Fast Five proves that it stands up to repeat viewings as an energetic action flick with that smartly reinvents its franchise and makes you actually want to see the next one. Good thing it’s already going into production.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Film): 8.5/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (Blu-Ray): 8.5/10