The "Fast and Furious" franchise is to hard to officially admire - I don't see an Oscar in its future - but it's also hard to dislike.
The movies are honest and frill-free in a way that most serial action properties are not. Director Justin Lin usually delivers on simple promises: We will race cars, we will crash cars, and at some point, a large-breasted woman in a low-cut blouse will lean over an engine block.
In "Fast Five" she is Brazilian. The franchise journeys to Rio de Janeiro, where "precision driving" fugitives Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster are on the lam.
Five minutes into the movie, somebody proposes the idea of "one last big score" (the movies are fast and furious, never original), and soon the gang is driving a flatbed dune buggy through the desert to steal a sports car from a moving train.
Lin does this mostly with real machines and real actors - he went to green-screen, computer-generated stuff in his last installment, and ended up neutering the action. His goal here: Drive a real car over a real cliff, and although it's not Walker and Diesel plunging 500 feet into the water, at least the stunt men are real.
The train heist puts the gang at odds with a local mobster, setting up a "Magnificent Seven" riff that has Walker and Diesel recruiting talent (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson) for yet another One Last Big Score - stealing the crime boss' warehoused money. (For some reason the crime boss can bribe local police but can't find a sleazy banker. Perhaps why "Fast Five" was not set on Wall Street.)
Lin also borrows from Andrew Davis' classic "The Fugitive" - Dwayne Johnson turns up as a relentless, order-barking U.S. fed in Rio to find Diesel, leading to a massive bald-head-and-biceps smackdown. (Who wins? Look at the list of producers, and guess.)
"Magnificent Seven," "The Fugitive" - that's a lot of other people's movies to fit into your own, and Lin could have been more economical here - no movie called "Fast Five" should ever be 130 minutes long.
But it's more like the original "Fast" than some of the unfocused sequels. "The Fast and the Furious" broke ground with its multiracial sensibility, and its interesting revisiting of a street-racing culture that hadn't been resonantly updated since "American Grafitti."
Lin has taken that multiracial motif and made it multinational (à la "Tokyo Drift") - "Fast Five" even incorporates a member of the Mossad.
And of course there are cars.
Lin crashes and destroys so many Dodge Chargers, you might want to think about investing in the company until inventories are replenished.