Fast Five

“Fast Five” is a movie about two guys who steal expensive cars for a living and are forced to do this in Brazil because of America’s draconian anti-stealing policies. It is like when people moved to Canada to avoid the draft. These two guys are conscientious objectors to the notion of having jobs. One of them used to be an FBI agent, but he quit that job in order to steal expensive cars, which was always his true calling.

This is the fifth movie in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. I believe street racing was a significant part of the story at some point. When did it start focusing on theft? Or was theft always a component? The only way to answer these questions would be to read my reviews of the previous four movies, and that seems like a lot of work, and I am a conscientious objector.

The two guys are Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. No doubt their characters have other names, but let’s not pretend that matters. The movie begins with Paul Walker and his buddies ambushing a prison bus in order to liberate the newly incarcerated Vin Diesel. This scene typifies the rest of the movie: it involves an elaborate plan that could not possibly work yet does anyway, it is moderately exciting to watch, it demonstrates a brazen disrespect for the laws of physics, and it miraculously fails to kill anyone. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and their associates are responsible for millions of dollars of property damage over the course of the movie, but not once do they take anyone’s life, even accidentally. That’s because they are the good guys, i.e., the car thieves. The bad guys (whose cars are sometimes stolen by the good guys) kill wantonly. That’s how you know they’re bad.

Anyway, everybody goes to Brazil, and in the process of very innocently stealing some expensive cars gets tangled in the web of Rio de Janeiro’s leading crime boss, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who rules the favelas. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel decide to do One Last Job and steal all of Reyes’ ill-gotten money. They will use cars to do this, somehow. This “Ocean’s Eleven”-style heist requires a dream team of drivers, hackers, con artists, and rappers, and so suddenly it’s “Fast and/or Furious” franchise reunion time! Why, there’s Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and people with names like Jordana Brewster, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, and Tego Calderon. The movie implies that we should know these characters because they were in previous chapters of the saga, but I’ll be honest, you could give me a list of a hundred people, fifty of whom had been in the “Fast and/or Furious” movies and fifty of whom had not, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you which was which.

New to the series, however, is Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as The Rock, playing an American federal agent trying to arrest Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. I was intrigued to learn of The Rock’s participation in the movie, as I curious to see what kind of technology would be involved in making it look like he and Vin Diesel are two different people. The Rock has facial hair, which helps us tell them apart, and is a Tommy Lee Jones-style blowhard who barks orders at subordinates and will not rest until the criminals are apprehended.

The screenplay, by Chris Morgan (who also wrote parts 3 and 4, as well as “Cellular” and “Wanted”), is brimming with the usual idiotic macho dialogue and many opportunities for the actors to swagger, puff out their chests, and flare their nostrils. At one point Tyrese Gibson declares, “This job just went from ‘Mission: Impossible’ to ‘Mission: In-freakin’-sanity’!”; that is one of the movie’s better lines.

But the action scenes are marvelously energetic and well-choreographed, and — even on an IMAX screen — not so chaotic as to become incomprehensible. (Yes, we’re at the point where action scenes must be praised merely for being coherent.) We could sit here all day and discuss the plausibility of the things that Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and co. do with their automobiles and bodies, but that would be a waste of our time.

As far as I can recall, “Fast Five” is one of the better entries in the series. That’s not to say it isn’t big and dumb, only that its big dumbness is executed with some degree of competence — one might even say flair — by director Justin Lin. We used to wish that Lin would return to the kind of savvy, stylish filmmaking that marked his first feature, the Sundance hit “Better Luck Tomorrow,” but now we have resigned ourselves to the idea that he will make “Fast and/or Furious” movies forever, and it’s OK. There are worse things a person could do than that, and worse movies a person could watch than this.

C+ (2 hrs., 10 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, a lot of action violence.)