I've never used the term "jaw dropping" in a review. It's cliche and ready made to grace the front of a DVD cover. And yet, there I was with my mouth hanging open, a result of the action sequences in Fast Five. Even before the credits could roll, a bus full of prisoners flies through the air and crashes down in a balletic display of beautiful slow-motion destruction. It was truly jaw dropping.
Well-choreographed by director Justin Lin and his crew, the details are never lost in the hyper-fragmented editing and noise. Each shot grabs every burnt piece of rubber and flying speck of turf. When someone is hanging off the side of a fiery speeding train, a wide shot reveals that a real person is indeed hanging off the side of a real train. The attention given to how each individual car is smashed (there are dozens) and every piece of property is destroyed is nothing short of impressive.
The accomplishment seems more astounding considering this is the fourth sequel in the series. It continues the story from the previous film, though I can only assume this since I haven't seen the last two movies. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster return as the reconfigured family of hot rodding crooks. After helping Dom (Vin Diesel) escape from prison, the three hide out in Rio de Janeiro to wait until things cool off. After a heist goes wrong, however, they soon find themselves at the top of the Most Wanted list. With a rabid DEA agent (Dwayne Johnson) and Brazil's biggest crime boss on their tails, they pull together a crack team for one last big job where the take would allow them to disappear forever.
Whereas the action is amazing, the writing and acting is less so. The jokes are broad, simplistic, repetitive, and can't compare with the unintentional humor found in other aspects. Dwayne Johnson's character seems to have left an action movie parody (something he's not totally unfamiliar with) to come kick ass in this. He barks trite one-liners like "And just one thing - stay the fuck out of my way!", which made me wonder if this movie wasn't a parody itself.
But to be fair, he's not there to play anything resembling a real person. He and Diesel are like two monolithic super humans who are more adept at surviving jumps off of two-story buildings than uttering a convincing line of dialogue. When they finally clash, it's like watching dinosaurs with arms like Christmas hams wrestle. Sticking with the cast's physicality, seeing the skeletal Brewster compared to these guys made me realize the men in this movie had bigger breasts than the women.
At the same time, the movie still managed to make me care about the characters. While backgrounds and motivations are often outright dismissed (when Tej, played by Chris "Ludicris" Bridges, is asked how he came to know so much about safes, he simply answers "I had a life before you guys") the team members are brought to life through little quirks and interactions.
The stand-out is Han Lue (Sung Kang) in a depiction of Asian men rarely seen in American cinema. Actors of Asian descent justifiably complain of the limited, emasculated roles in which they're often typecast. Not so here - Lue doesn't occupy the usual technician or scientist role, but instead is known as the guy who "blends in", a regular dude and love interest to a hot French chick. It was a breath of fresh air in a genre that would usually have him doing martial arts.