Getting Furious Fast Fast and Furious steers franchise off-course.

Ghost Ridin’: Paul Walker (left), Vin Diesel and director Justin Lin lose control of their latest movie franchise vehicle.

Where have all the cowboys gone, anyway? I’ve gotten behind most of the Fast & Furious movies because – with the exception of the appalling Tokyo Drift – they’ve been packed with thrillingly staged action and peopled with protagonists who walk that bad-boy line cagily enough to make rooting for them a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. But something is off in Fast Five (aka Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist aka 5ast and 5urious, and someone please make it stop). The mix is wrong. It’s all teetered far too far into the realm of the actively antisocial. There’s something deeply unpleasant about this latest flick that prevented me from enjoying all the stuff blowing up real good.

I also was unable to enjoy all the manmeat on display. But then, none of the beefcake here was ever to my taste, so I suppose I cannot blame this particular movie for that.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m getting too old for this s***. Maybe I’m tired of seeing people who do bad championed as heroes merely because the bad they do isn’t that bad. Or maybe the only place left for the Furious franchise to go was here. I started getting rubbed the wrong way – and lemme tell ya, that’s really uncomfortable – at the film’s opening gambit, in which former cop, former FBI agent, and current criminal Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and his main squeeze, Mia (Jordana Brewster), bust her brother and Brian’s pal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) off a prison bus, after he’s been sent up for 25 years to life with no possibility of parole. 

If I’m remembering my Fast & Furious correctly – and I believe I am – it’s not like he doesn’t deserve it. It’s not like Dom is wrongly convicted or anything. He’s just, I dunno, too cool for prison? He is Vin Diesel, after all, and any man named after a varietal of automobile fuel has gotta be awesome. Right?

Brian and Mia end up down in Rio, which is where it’s at these days, apparently, where they hook up with Dom and some other pals from the old neighborhood and decide to do a job heisting fancy-schmancy sports cars from a moving train. Oh yessiree, the racing alongside a moving train and busting in with blowtorches and whatnot is all very exciting, I’m sure. But there comes a moment when Dom is about to make his escape (with the most special car in the batch, natch), and in run a couple cops bent on stopping this heist. Dom is cornered; he is absolutely, most definitely caught… except then one of the bad bad guys with whom Dom et al are working shoots the cops dead. And now good bad guy Dom can make his escape.

This becomes a thing throughout the rest of the film, when superbadass cop Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, pumped up to a terrifying degree) arrives on scene to bring in Dom and Brian and Mia, all now tops of the most-wanted list after their bus escapade, and also because now Dom has killed cops. See, local cop Elena (Elsa Pataky), Hobbs’ translator, becomes convinced that Dom cannot possibly be that bad that he would shoot cops, and she’s not wrong: Dom is indeed not that bad. But the movie needed to have those cops taken out if Dom was to continue as a character in the narrative… and the movie chickens out when it allows Dom to benefit from the deaths of those cops while also allowing him the golden badge of Not That Bad for not having actually shot them himself.

That sourness lingers over the rest of the film. At least for me. But it does seem as if the rest of the film would have fallen on its face anyway, out of sheer laziness. Your ass is already in the seat, so who cares if the film skips over most of the actual street racing that made the first movies so ridiculously exciting? Who cares if, in its place, we get a shoddy Ocean’s 11 heist knockoff, the kind in which someone says things like, “We need a bisexual Martian who can pick locks and do improv,” and then someone else says, “I know a guy,” and then those requested talents never get used? Who cares if the Robin Hood aspect – the gang is heisting a drug dealer’s millions – gets lost in a level of civic destruction that would make Michael Bay blush? Who cares if the unintentional subtextural homoeroticism makes you roll your eyes and just wish that the Rock and Vin Diesel would just f*** already and get over it? 

FAST FIVE (1½) • Directed by Justin Lin • Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster • Rated R • 130 min •At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.

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