The Fast and Furious series, for all of its diversions in sequel nomenclature, deserves credit for its consistency. It is consistently loud, consistently dumb, consistently fast, and consistently unassuming. It's also, despite the series' considerable ups and downs, consistently fun. The series' fifth entry, Fast Five, has earned the only positive consensus in the F+F catalog, and in some ways, it's easy to see why the critical community has decided to embrace this film. It's a silly and barely memorable film, but it's also down to earth, in the sense that it never aspires to be an ounce more than what it is (unlike, say, Sucker Punch).
Opening with a brief catch-up, we see that Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been sent to prison, much to the dismay of Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster). In the film's opening action sequence, the pair intercept Dom's prison transport bus, sending the thing flipping down the desert road. A news report then tells us that only one prisoner was missing when police arrived on the scene, and that there were no injuries. Yes, you heard that right. Not even 'no fatalities,' no injuries. Barely 20 minutes later, Diesel and Walker survive a massive fall from a bridge into a river. So while there are no elves or dragons in Fast Five, director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan quickly establish that this all takes place in fantasy-land.
From there, we get a relatively standard heist set-up, although this time OMG we're in RIO you guys! The movie never lets us forget either (at least two overhead shots of the Christ the Redeemer statue, pans along the coast/beaches, etc...). The bad guy sets off the good guys, who plan monetary revenge, all while forced to evade US law enforcement, led by agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson's ginormous biceps). Pic's middle mostly consists of piecing together the plan, trial and error tests runs, and scattered encounters with Hobbs and his ilk. There's a pregnancy subplot too, although I could've sworn that at some point Ms. Brewster can briefly be seen toasting with a beer bottle (root beer, perhaps?).
And yet for all that's ordinary (especially the barely-there performances), there's still an undeniable sense of fun about the whole thing. Is it dumb? Of course it is. But it's so sincere in its stupidity, and so completely without pretension in regards to its "emotional" moments that the movie never gets weighed down. And even though the film may hold off longer on vehicular chases (a chance for a race involving a blue Porsche is skipped for time), the movie delivers when it wants to. Lin and cinematographer Stephen Windon do a nice job of showing us what's actually going on in the action, whether on foot or in cars. The film's trio of editors keep things moving fast, but never over-cut to the point of making action scenes incomprehensible or jumbled. It's a nice change of pace from the wannabe-cinema-verite-shaky-handheld that pervades so many action scenes these days.
And even though there's nothing resembling actual character development, I suspect longtime fans of the series already have fond enough associations with the main characters. For the rest of us, there's a clear enough of a line between good and bad that it doesn't really matter how one-note these people are. They're buff and beautiful, so it goes without saying that we're supposed to root for them. Somehow, that feels OK here. Fast Five may be dumb, but as stated above, it's inoffensively dumb, and it's also a great deal of fun. In other words it's the epitome of the lowest tier of big-budget summer entertainment, and there's nothing wrong with any of that.