“FAST FIVE” (2011) Review

Fast-Five-Gallery-4

 

“FAST FIVE” (2011) Review

I have never seen a movie from the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise before 2011. Never. I never had the inclination to see any of these movies, despite the series being a consistent cash cow for producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Studios.  One might begin to wonder what led me to break that tradition and see the franchise’s 2011 entry, “FAST FIVE”

I might have to retract a little. I did see the first movie, 2001’s “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” seven months before the 2011 film was released.  Well, I only saw two or three minutes of one of the movie’s early scenes on a large screen television at my local electronics store. But those two or three minutes did not convince me to go see “FAST FIVE”. The movie trailer did. When I first saw it, I had rolled my eyes in disgust at the idea of a fifth FAST AND FURIOUS movie. When I saw the trailer for a second time . . . it intrigued me. Because of this, I decided to end my ban on the franchise and see the movie.

In order to understand the beginning of “FAST FIVE”, one would have to watch the past four movies – especially 2009’s“FAST AND FURIOUS”. That movie, featured law enforcement officer Brian O’Conner’s reunion with the Toretto family – street car racer/thief Dominic “Dom” and his younger sister, Mia – after he had allowed Dom to escape arrest at the end of the first movie. Dom and Brian investigated the murder of the former’s girlfriend, Leticia “Letty” Ortiz and her connection to a major drug lord. Brian made arrangements with the FBI for Dom’s release in exchange for the latter’s assistance in the drug lord’s capture. However, a Federal judge reneged on the deal and sentenced Dom 25 years to life in prison. The movie ended with Brian, Mia and two of Dom’s colleagues (Tego Leo and Rico Santos) attempting to free Dom from a bus en route to the Lompoc Penitentiary.

“FAST FIVE” picked up with Dom’s rescue from the prison bus. Dom, Brian and Mia are forced to leave the United States as fugitives from justice. Upon their arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; they encounter Dom’s former colleague, Vince. He recruits them to participate in steal cars from a moving train, on behalf of a Rio businessman and crime lord named Hernan Reyes. When Dom realizes that one of their fellow thieves, Zizi, is only interested in stealing one car – the Ford GT40 – he has Mia steal the car, while Dom and Brian fight Zizi and his henchmen. The fight results in Zizi’s murder of three DEA agents on board the train. The murders are pinned on Dom and Brian. The trio discover a computer chip from the Ford GT40 that consists of details of Reyes’ criminal operation and locations of $100 million dollars in cash. They decide to rip off the crime lord’s money in order to start a new life, with the help of old friends. Dom, Brian and Mia also discover that a diehard U.S. DSS agent named Luke Hobbs is in Brazil to capture them for the murders of the DEA agents.

When “FAST FIVE” first hit the theaters, many fans and critics declared it to be the best in the franchise. Following my first viewing of the movie, I watched the other four that came before it. Two of them proved to be well-written entertainment; one of them seemed decent, but a little mediocre; and one barely maintained my interest. But “FAST FIVE” definitely turned out to be better than the first four movies. Although the movie featured an extreme car chase through the streets of Rio, it barely touched upon street car racing, a theme that dominated the other four films. In fact, the movie only featured two street car races – a good natured contest between four of the characters and another between Dom and Brian right before the movie’s end credits. In other words, “FAST FIVE” was more of a heist film. And although certain fans had complained about the limited emphasis on street car racing, the critics and other fans had expressed that the heist plot made “FAST FIVE” the best in the franchise. So far.

Not only do I believe that “FAST FIVE” is the best in the franchise, I feel that it is one of the better heist movies I have seen in recent years (aside from 2001’s “OCEAN’S ELEVEN” and 2007’s “OCEAN’S THIRTEEN”). Aside from a small quibble regarding the Vince character, screenwriter Chris Morgan’s plot turned out to be a strong continuation of the first, second and fourth films. Morgan’s utilization of characters from the previous films provided “FAST FIVE” with a strong ensemble cast. In fact, I happily noticed that none of supporting characters had been shoved into the background or overshadowed by the Dom, Brian and Mia characters. Most of the supporting characters have previous connections with Dominic, except for two – Roman Pearce and Tej Parker – who appeared in 2003’s “2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” as Brian’s friends. This fifth film provided a warm and humorous private reunion between the three. And thanks to Morgan’s script, the franchise’s theme of family (especially fatherhood) resonated strongly. This theme also led me to view the Dominic/Brian friendship with a jaundiced eye.

The movie’s production also struck me as top notch. Aside from the train robbery sequence, many of the exterior scenes were shot in Puerto Rico and Rio. Director Justin Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon did a first rate job in conveying the elegance, color, chaos and squalor of Rio de Janeiro. I also have to commend Kelly Matsumoto, Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner for their editing of the film – especially the foot chase through Rio’s Rocinha Favela (shantytown) and the chase sequence throughout the city.

Before I end up gushing over the movie, I do have a few quibbles. The train heist had been shot in Arizona . . . and looked it. I am aware of the scrub lands that exist in Brazil, but the train featured in this sequenced looked as if it was traveling through a very stark and dry looking terrain. And Morgan’s script never revealed how Vince ended up in Brazil. He had last been seen in “THE FAST AND FURIOUS”, being evacuated to hospital by a medivac, after being badly injured in truck heist gone wrong. Had he been convicted following his release from the hospital? How did he end up in Brazil in the first place?

Considering the number of performers featured in the cast of “FAST FIVE”, I figured it would take a separate article to write about them. If I must be honest, there was not a performance that hit the wrong note. I noticed that the movie seemed to have a strong sense of ensemble acting. Not only did the gang of thieves summoned by Dominic and Brian clicked with perfect magic, but Dwayne Johnson and the other actors who portrayed the DSS agents clicked very well as a team. And I could say the same about Joaquim de Almeida as crime lord Reyes and Michael Irby as his henchman, Zizi.

There were some performances that caught my eye. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker made an even stronger screen team, now that the latter’s character (Brian O’Conner) officially became a criminal. And Walker’s chemistry with Jordana Brewster seemed a lot stronger and more stable than it was in the first and fourth movies. Speaking of Walker (again), he was also able to re-create his strong chemistry with Tyrese Gibson, who portrayed his childhood friend Roman, from the second film. As for Gibson, not only did he have the worst line in the movie, he also had most of the best ones. He was dynamic as ever. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges gave a deliciously cool and sardonic performance as Tej Parker. Spanish-born actress Elsa Pataky really connected with Diesel and Johnson in separate films. And it was great to see Almeida in a strong role again. I found his character’s view on the differences between Spanish and Portuguese colonization rather interesting and chilling. Sung Kang (Han Seoul-Oh) and Gal Gadot (Gisele Harabo)’s characters created a surprisingly sexy romance. Tego Calderon and Don Omar made a hilarious screen team as Dom’s old colleagues from the Dominican Republic. And even Dwayne Johnson gave a slightly scary take on the “holy roller” Federal agent, Luke Hobbs.

Considering how long this article is, one would assume that I really enjoyed “FAST FIVE”. And that person would be right. And I find this surprising, considering my initial contempt, when I first saw the movie’s trailer. Not only did I really enjoy “FAST FIVE”, it became one my favorite movies of 2011, as well.  I am impressed.

“DATE NIGHT” (2010) Review

”DATE NIGHT” (2010) Review

After watching the 2010 comedy, ”DATE NIGHT”, I found myself amazed that its two stars – Steve Carell and Tina Fey – had never worked together. At least not before this movie. Both managed to become stars within the last eleven years. Both possessed a wry, yet off-the-world sense of humor that made their respective television series successful. So, why did it take them so long to work together?

You know what? Who cares? I should thank my lucky stars that Carell and Fey had finally decided to co-star in this hilarious comedy. Directed by Shawn Levy, ”DATE NIGHT” told the story of a suburban couple named Phil and Claire Foster, suffering from a mid-life crisis in their marriage. They decided to renew their romantic juices by attending a new, upscale restaurant in Manhattan. When they failed to get a table on their own, the Fosters decide to pretend to be another couple named Tripplehorn that failed to appear for their reservation. The two are eventually mistaken as the Tripplehorns by a pair of corrupt police detectives, working for a local mobster. The detectives believed that the Fosters have a small computer flash drive that contains information on a politician with connections to the mobster. Hilarity ensued as the Fosters struggled to stay alive and get their hands on the flash drive in order to clear their names.

The main reason I seemed to be in shock over Steve Carell and Tina Fey is because I believe they had managed to work very well, together. Who am I kidding? While watching ”DATE NIGHT”, I felt as if I had stumbled across a dynamic new screen team. How these two managed not to work together for so many years in the past seemed like a great mystery. The miraculous thing about Carell and Fey’s screen chemistry is not only did their styles merged into comedy magic, both actors-comics did an excellent job in the movie’s one dramatic scene in which their characters – Phil and Claire – expressed pent-up frustrations over the pressures of family life and the diminishing romance in their marriage.

Carell and Fey were ably supported by solid performances from the rest of the cast. Mark Wahlberg was both sexy and humorous as Holbrooke Gran, former intelligence agent-turned-security expert that happened to be a former client of Claire’s. Taraji P. Henson gave a richly sardonic performance as N.Y.P.D. Detective Arroyo, whose help the Fosters tried to recruit. Common and Jimmi Simpson gave subtle, yet sinister performances as Detectives Collins and Armstrong, the corrupt detectives working for a local gangster named Joe Miletto. Ray Liotta gave his usual, hypertensive performance as local mob boss, Miletto. Aside from Carell and Fey, the real laughs also came from a hilarious William Fitchner as the corrupt and perverse District Attorney Frank Crenshaw, whose perversity turned out to be the movie’s catalyst. J.B. Smoove was hysterical as a Manhattan cab driver who inadvertently got drawn into a high speed chase involving the Fosters, the two corrupt detectives and the police. But James Franco and Mila Kunis were just as hilarious as the Tripplehorns, a pair of married low-life criminals whose restaurant reservations had been taken by the Fosters.

Another aspect of ”DATE NIGHT” that I enjoyed so much was the film’s screenplay written by Josh Klausner. Not only did I find it funny, but also well-written with plenty of strong characterizations. Klausner took a common malaise for many married couples and created a hilarious, yet exciting action-adventure. The plot touched upon a good number of topics – crime, sex, police corruption, political corruption, computer technology, love and marriage. And not only did Levy utilized his talented cast and Klausner’s script with great skill, he also provided the movie with sight gags that left me in stitches. One such scene involved the Fosters’ initial escape from the corrupt detectives at a Central Park boathouse. Another featured the Fosters’ attempt to implicate District Attorney Crenshaw at one of Miletto’s local whorehouses.

I am trying to recall a flaw or two that I may have spotted in the movie. If I must be frank, I cannot think of one at the moment. If anyone can recall one, please let me know. Regardless of whether there are any flaws I may have overlooked, ”DATE NIGHT”turned out to be one of the funniest movies I have seen in recent years. More importantly, it just might serve as the beginning of a hilarious screen team in the form of Steve Carell and Tina Fey.