The action franchise for muscle car fetishists—call it soft car porn if you like—revs up for a fifth lap in “Fast Five,” which reteams stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, along with plenty of familiar supporting players and director Justin Lin, in a vehicle that takes the crew from the mean streets of California to the meaner ones of Rio de Janeiro. The result may satisfy fans of the brainlessly macho series, but apart from big set-pieces at the beginning and end, it’s actually pretty short on the sort of zoom-zoom racing action they’ve come to expect, emerging more as a long drawn-out heist movie, a low-rent version of an “Oceans” picture with Diesel replacing George Clooney, insuring a severe drop-off in the charm department.
As the movie opens, Diesel’s Dom Toretto is sprung from a prison transport bus by Walker’s ex-agent Brian O’Connor and his squeeze, Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). They reunite in Rio, where old pal Vince (Matt Schultze) has lined up a job with some big-wig locals, stealing a trio of cars being transported via train by the DEA. But for reasons not fully explained the boys turn on their partners, leading to their capture by Rio crime lord Reyes (Joaquin de Almeida), who’s looking for the one car, driven by Mia, that got away.
But of course our heroes escape without breaking a sweat and find that the car houses a computer chip revealing the details of all Reyes’ operations. That results in his gang tracking them down with nefarious intent (a foot chase through a favela serves as the big set-piece here). But by this time they’re being pursued as well by legendary DEA agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who believes them responsible for the deaths of several DEA agents in that opening train heist.
All of which leads Dom to suggest that they put together a crew of their old buddies—fast-talking Roman (Tyrese Gibson), safecracker Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), wheel man Han (Sung Kang), svelte beauty Gisele (Gal Gadot) and the bickering team of Santos (Don Omer) and Leo (Tego Calderon)—to steal all of Reyes’ dirty money and destroy his power base. After a series of reversals—which include a drawn-out fistfight between Diesel and Johnson that, given their enormous torsos, resembles nothing more than the struggle between dinosaurs in “The Lost World”—Hobbs joins up with the guys he’s been hunting to storm the headquarters of the military police, a corrupt bunch in whose impregnable vault Reyes has stashed his loot. That leads to the second big set-piece—a high-speed pursuit through the streets of downtown Rio in which Dom, Brian and their cohorts haul the huge safe away with their rides while droves of cop cars bear down on them.
Curiously enough, apart from that finale and the opening train sequence, there’s not much actual car action in “Fast Five.” There is a race where four of the guys drive a quartet of stolen police cars through Rio’s streets, but it’s relatively brief; and the picture simply foregoes an invitation to show another in which Diesel wins a fast ride from a local driver (the movie just skips to the aftermath). What do we get instead? Reams of forced banter among the gang courtesy of Chris Morgan, who knows his way around macho swagger but seems unacquainted with wit. And enormous amounts of preening by the cast, who all seem well versed in striking poses but very little aptitude for delivering lines with even the most rudimentary conviction. One might single out Kang in particular, whose amateurishness almost makes the others look talented. De Almeida proves a stock villain, notable more for his ineptitude than anything else. (Of course, the same could be said of Hobbs, whose reputation appears undeserved, and whom Johnson plays like a strutting quarterback in a high-school talent show.)
On the plus side, the movie is extremely slick and visually impressive, though the editing (by the trio of Christian Wagner, Kelly Matsumoto and Fred Raskin) tests one’s patience by prolonging the piece to well over two hours (including a surprise coda that follows the end credits, clearly the stuff of a sequel).
“Fast Five” is just what its predecessors were—a dumb macho wish-fulfillment fantasy, done on an even bigger scale. But it should please fans of the series, while making everybody else wonder why.