[Screen It]

(2011) (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker) (PG-13)

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Action: A former law enforcement officer, an escaped convict, his sister and their crew try to rob $100 million from a corrupt Brazilian businessman, all while a federal agent and his team try to capture the lawbreakers.
Taking up where "Fast & Furious" left off, ex-cop and former FBI agent Brian O'Conner (PAUL WALKER) and his girlfriend Mia (JORDANA BREWSTER) have just freed her brother, Dominic 'Dom' Toretto (VIN DIESEL), from a prison transport bus. They end up reuniting in Rio with Dom's childhood friend and fellow car thief, Vince (MATT SCHULZE), who's arranged a job for them.

But their heist of exotic sports cars from a train goes bad when three federal agents are shot by Zizi (MICHAEL IRBY), the right-hand lieutenant of local corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (JOAQUIM DE ALMEIDA). He isn't happy with Brian and Paul as an important computer chip of his is now missing, but those two -- after escaping from his men -- have bigger concerns, as does Mia who's just learned she's pregnant by Brian.

And that's because U.S. officials believe they're the ones who murdered the federal agents, and thus DSS agent Luke Hobbs (DWAYNE JOHNSON) arrives with his team, intent on finding and capturing the trio. With the help of local cop Elena Neves (ELSA PATAKY), they set out to do just that, unaware of the scheme that Dom has just hatched.

Having learned of Reyes' $100 million fortune, he's determined to rob the businessman of all of that and thus he and Brian assemble a team of experts to help them. That includes Roman Pierce (TYRESE GIBSON) and Tej Parker (LUDACRIS) who always bicker among themselves; Han Lue (SUNG KANG) who finds himself enticed by the alluring beauty of Gisele Yashar (GAL GADOT), and Tego Leo (TEGO CALDERON) and Rico Santos (DON OMAR). As Hobbs and his team close in, Dom and his crew plot, practice and then try to pull off what seems like an impossible task, especially after Reyes moves all of his money into a heavily fortified police station.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Perhaps it's due to pretty much everyone living a more rushed life nowadays than in the past, but I'm always amazed at the retailers who seem to be pushing the next one or two seasons when the current one still isn't more than halfway through. Take for instance, Costco. I've been a member for more than two decades (starting back when it was Price Club) and think they provide great deals, but they're one of the more blatant ones with such seasonal pushing.

Christmas decorations start showing up in early fall, while beach chairs, towels and other such items appear while there's still snow on the ground. Then there's the other oft-joked about element of shopping there -- everything is either super-sized or comes in bulk. With that in mind, and considering that Hollywood continually keeps pushing their "summer" movie season earlier and earlier in the calendar, "Fast Five" is a Costco-style movie.

Not only is it kick-starting the 2011 summer release time of year by arriving in late April, but it's also filled with enough action scenes, crashed cars, other smashed things, gunplay, fistfights and more to make it seem like one could create two movies out of all of the material. Indeed, it clocks in at a surprisingly long 130-some minutes and, probably even more shocking, it's the best of the bunch of the "Fast and the Furious" film franchise offerings.

That's something to say for a series that nearly derailed with the third film (2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"), and as the title would suggest, is now in its fifth installment. In fact, with the fourth version (2009's "Fast & Furious") indicating the series was far from out of gas -- as it was the biggest box office grosser of the bunch -- I'm guessing this flick will be even bigger.

It's far from perfect and possesses a number of glaring problems -- including a serious disregard for physics, believability and common sense among its characters -- but I'll be darned if I wasn't highly entertained far more often than I wasn't, and certainly much more than in its series predecessors. For fans of the films, it should also be something of a delight as it plays somewhat like an all-star gathering of many of those who appeared in the first four flicks, with plenty of related "in-the-know" references and insider jokes (and much of the humor stems from the interplay between the characters played by Tyrese Gibson and Ludracris).

Like the last one, this takes place before "Tokyo Drift" and picks up right where the 2009 film left off. Namely, that's the prison bus break of one of the franchise's main characters (Vin Diesel) by his former nemesis (Paul Walker) and the sister to the first and girlfriend to the latter (Jordana Brewster). Like the Blue Macaw and his human owner a few weeks ago in the animated kids film "Rio," the trio here head south to the land of Carnival for more hearty doses of testosterone, sexy ladies, muscle cars and even a little WWE action.

The latter comes courtesy of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson who arrives as a federal agent hell-bent on capturing those three and muscularly pumped up like a Macy's parade float ready to burst. To no one's surprise, he and Diesel's equally macho character clash and even get into a stare-down (along with the requisite, rock 'em, sock 'em fistfight) that's obviously a fun (and to some, funny) riff on what Johnson used to do in the ring with any number of pro wrestling opponents.

Yes, much of it's dumb, and yes it -- like much of the rest of the film -- is usually way over the top. Yet, and quite thankfully, everyone involved -- including returning director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan -- seems to know and happily live every ounce of that. They also pull it back just enough to keep it from getting too campy or the "serious" non-action and non-comedy moments from being too melodramatic.

Granted, if you're looking for accurate or believable physics, this isn't the pic for you. Rather than worrying about the logistics of two muscle cars dragging a massive bank-style vault down the roads of Rio in a prolonged, third act action sequence, they're obviously and simply more interested in seeing how many things could be smashed by that huge hunk of square steel along the route. A much earlier train heist and escape from that has similar credibility issues, but all involved just push the pedal to the metal and let the mayhem fall where it may. And more often than not, less discerning viewers will, mostly, happily go along for the high speed ride.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is far from a glowing endorsement as the pic isn't remotely an overall action masterpiece, and it does lose some forward momentum when it starts to turn into something akin to a far less clever or smart version of "Ocean's Eleven." But when it's firing on all cylinders, it's a blast to watch. Starting off the "summer" 2011 season with a bang, "Fast Five" delivers what a dumb, popcorn flick is supposed to and easily passes my standard "guy-movie" litmus test -- it makes one want to drive fast after seeing it, high gas prices or not. Guess I better top off the summer tank before the Santa displays start coming out. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 26, 2011 / Posted April 29, 2011

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