And understandably so, as the first and fourth films failed to rev my fun engine. Yet “Fast Five” achieves that seemingly insurmountable peak. Once worldwide receipts are counted, I suspect its tally will be larger than any of its predecessors.
Part of that is because it mostly glosses over what the 2001 original so off-puttingly drowned itself in: the highly niche culture of modified cars for illegal street racing. Instead, while retaining its core characters, “Fast Five” opens itself up and casts a wider net. No longer is it mere automotive porn, but a full-fledged heist movie.
It’s not necessary to have seen the others, but doing so will increase viewer satisfaction, as on-the-run Dom (Vin Diesel) and O’Conner (Paul Walker) cull — “Ocean’s Eleven”-style — various cast members from the previous entries to an empty warehouse in sunny Rio de Janeiro for the requisite One Last Job: to rob a local drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida, TV’s “24”) of all his filthy money.
Dwayne Johnson (“Faster”) happily joins the fray as the federal agent on their trail. While Diesel and Walker act poorly, Johnson seems to be only one who realizes this is all for fun, infusing his orders-barking character with a sardonic, gung-ho machismo take on Tommy Lee Jones’ Lt. Gerard in “The Fugitive.”
Returning director Justin Lin delivers heavily in the amped-up action sequences, where life, limb and property are discarded with nonchalance, like so many empty pistachio shells. “Fast Five” may be equally as disposable, but it tastes delicious at the time. —Rod Lott