Deep into the end credits of this fifth entry in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, an odd disclaimer pops up, courtesy of the studio’s legal department. In effect, it states: “Do not try this at home. These stunts were performed by trained professionals under highly controlled settings.” No worries there. The mad, gravity- and matter-defying stunt work in Fast Five—the main reason we plunk down dough for these flicks, after all—is suitably surreal, over-the-top, and not plausible in the physical world, as you and I know. Those senses-goosing scenes include an opening vehicular dance/prisoner break (filmed on the back roads of Lompoc) and a climaxing wild ride that involves towing a gigantic safe around Rio. Thus, one moral of the story and cause for another disclaimer: A safe, moving at high speeds on open roadways, can be mighty dangerous.
Making a genre picture work, and work as well as this one does, is tricky business. You want a reassuring sameness to the formula that made the sequel shtick possible, but enough freshness of story, milieu, and faces to enliven the stew. Here, we’re treated to the same magic recipe of adrenaline-gland excitation in the car-chase sequences, this time, around the exotic and squalid locales of Rio. The clean streets of Rio—and the mean streets and roofs of the favelas—become this model’s playground, in an elaborate heist yarn involving good guys, bad guys, and guys whom we soon view as provisionally good by virtue of an epic ripping-off of the über bad.
We also get the same variations on the theme of truly bad acting that we need to give Five post–B-movie traction. Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson are hulking action stars whom we expect grunts and body lingo from, but Paul Walker is something else altogether. By now, he is one of America’s great, um, “minimalist” actors, who has artfully melded surfer dude and badass actioneer styles into a chill thespian approach all its own. Yes, he’s chill, but get him behind the wheel of a tricked-out car or a semi-automatic weapon, and Walker is nobody you want to be on the wrong side of. There are hints of Steve McQueen (another car guy) in him, though ratcheted down a notch or three on the expressive scale, and that’s one of the renewable pleasures in the pulpy land of the Fast.