Former cop Brian O'Conner partners with ex-con Dom Toretto on the opposite side of the law. Since Brian and Mia Toretto broke Dom out of custody, they've blown across many borders to elude authorities. Now backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, they must pull one last job in order to gain their freedom. As they assemble their elite team of top racers, the unlikely allies know their only shot of getting out for good means confronting the corrupt businessman who wants them dead. But he's not the only one on their tail. Hard-nosed federal agent Luke Hobbs never misses his target. When he is assigned to track down Dom and Brian, he and his strike team launch an all-out assault to capture them. But as his men tear through Brazil, Hobbs learns he can't separate the good guys from the bad. Now, he must rely on his instincts to corner his prey... before someone else runs them down first.
It's kind of like having a needle full of testosterone jammed into your eye, but if you're in the mood for that sort of thing, it will provide exactly what you're looking for.
The action picks up, ahem, fast and furiously right where the fourth installment left off with escape of notorious street racer Dominic 'Dom' Toretto (Vin Diesel) from a prison bus. Director Justin Lin keeps the pedal to the floor all the way through first act, producing the series' best chase scenes to date as Toretto and ex-FBI Agent now fugitive Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) take a desperation job stealing cars from a moving train to pay for their run from the law. We've all seen enough action movies by now to know that's not going to turn out well.
Originality isn't "Fast Five's" goal so much as distillation; Lin's aim is to make the ultimate version of a "Fast and the Furious" film and the third time appears to be the charm for him as a director. "Fast Five" is probably the best of the series.
When the train heist goes wrong, Brian and Dom find themselves on the wrong side of Rio de Janeiro's top crime boss (Joaquim de Almeida) and realize they only have one choice: to steal all of his money and live like kings. It's not really a plot so much as an excuse for Lin and returning screenwriter Chris Morgan to serve up a feast for long time series fans, bringing back every major character from the entire series (in one form or another) as Brian and Dom put together the crew they're going to need.
But it works. Bringing back recurring characters, the filmmakers are able to skip past extended introductions and back-story and go right into the meat of the story. It references, but it doesn't dwell. At the same time they manage skip the worst temptations for rehashing some of the older stories and just use the characters as needed in the new one.
The freedom gives Lin and Morgan more time to focus on the one major addition "Fast Five" makes to the cast: Lucas Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the FBI's most feared manhunter, sent to Rio to drag Brian and Dom back to answer for the deaths of some DEA agents during the train robbery.
Hobbs is Johnson in full macho man mode—he's literally drenched in sweat every time we see him—and he makes a formidable foil for Diesel. While the car chases remain the best thing about the film, the build to Diesel and Johnson's big slugfest is a close second and the payoff is worth it.
Unfortunately he also flags some of the films weaker elements. Outside of Hobbs the villains aren't particularly interesting or competent. Diesel and Walker get the better of them in every encounter, and incompetent villains ruin jeopardy and conflict. Lin makes up for that most of the film by having Johnson do the heavy lifting, but ultimately Almeida and his right hand man (Michael Irby) are supposed to be the real threat. When they come to the fore in the big climax Johnson must move to the background and the difference is noticeable.
Which is "Fast Five's" real problem and the big thing holding it back from being better than just good. It is extremely badly structured, and not just in not knowing how to use its antagonists.
The middle drags badly as the crew spends a lot of time planning an intricate heist, most of which goes to little use. To a certain extent the filmmakers are creating some surprise in the last act and that works, but knowing that ahead of time they could have spared some of the unused planning to make room for some actual character interaction. Instead you end up with a 40-minute section that feels like the filmmakers are desperately trying to get through in order to get to the last act, but have no idea how to use. It's not a deal breaker, but it's close.
The series sexism is still in pretty strong effect as well. Gal Gadot's major contribution to the plan is to wear a bikini and Jordana Brewster spends most of her time sitting behind a computer screen, shouting out directions. Considering who the series is marketed to it's not surprising, but still a little disheartening.
A lot of those problems go out window once they get in the cars though, which is the reason we're all here after all. Lin and company have saved the best for last as Diesel and company drag a bank vault loaded with cash down the crowded streets of Rio like a giant square wrecking ball wreaking havoc on everything around them.
There's still room for more "Fast and the Furious" films, but if "Fast Five" ends up being the last it's a pretty good send off. Everything you've liked about the franchise is packed together for one big finale. Fans of the series or just car chases in general, won't be disappointed.