Fast Five earned more than twice as much money on its opening weekend as any other feature released so far this year because it fulfills everything you could hope for from a needless sequel. It's wacky, recklessly energetic, and also sports two of the most inventive, gravity-defying car chases in recent action-movie history.
Circumscribing such limited perfection is tricky, though. It's like gushing over the taste of a convenience-store burrito or praising the contours of the perfect Frisbee. But it would be a nice summer indeed if the other heavy-artillery franchise-starters headed for the theaters this season shared Fast Five's egalitarian spirit.
The fifth installment of the franchise luxuriates in a cozy, Blues Brothers-like "We're getting the band back together" vibe as it trims the street-racing sequences to focus on a tricky bank heist that, with the help of some old pals from previous films — including Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Gal Gadot, and Tokyo Drift's Hung Kang — will bring a wicked South American crime boss to his knees and thus allow Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), and Brian's now-pregnant girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) to finally settle down and stop running from the law.
The pregnancy subplot is just one indication of the depths of feeling just beneath this preposterous, guilt-free PG-13 fantasy. In the Fast/Furious world, where sexuality is never connected to reproduction, it's a shock to see Brian and Mia actually embrace the responsibilities of raising a family. (So was Mia's pregnancy a result of the kitchen-counter makeout sesh that was discreetly cut away from late in 2009's Fast & Furious?) But don't fear — there are plenty of chances for innocuous booty (and bicep) ogling in Fast Five. After all, the film is set in Brazil, the only country in the world that looks more ass- and gun-crazy than the United States.
Another indication of the brains and heart at work under the film's hood are the inclusive, multicultural family values embraced and espoused by the film's multi-ethnic cast. But these moments are merely heartfelt preambles to one outlandish set piece after another. Working within the constrictions of overly busy action montages, director Justin Lin and his trio of editors reconstruct mosaics of motion and space better than anyone other than Michael Bay. The film's absurdity is one of its greatest charms, especially during a segment in which four guys steal police cars and immediately decide to race down the streets of Rio de Janeiro for a million-dollar prize that turns out to be ... an unexpected baby shower gift.
And then there are the two colossi that straddle the film. Vin Diesel's few lines hardly matter as much as his slightly curled lips and sleepy eyes; he looks one punch away from dementia, yet you're comfortable because no one could ever land that punch. Except, that is, for his nemesis, a sweat-slicked federal agent played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Their meeting is like watching two fleshy Transformers come to life, a gratifying American meathead equivalent of De Niro and Pacino sharing a coffee break in Heat.