The fifth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise is big, loud, long and stupid. Its leading man is a charisma-free block of muscle, and its plot features holes big enough to drive a semi through (which these characters could and would do without hesitation). It’s also embarrassingly fun, the sort of speedy, senseless, violence-crammed action flick that virtually defines the summer season, with superheroes who aren’t gods or crusaders in tights but guys in T-shirts and jeans who can drive cars really fast. They’re criminals who break the law and yet are deeply, morally sound, so rooting for them is interesting without presenting any sticky ethical questions.The creators of the series changed things up a bit in Fast Five, which was directed by Justin Lin, who helmed Fast & Furious (No. 4) and Tokyo Drift (No. 3). It’s morphed from a race to a heist movie — think Ocean’s 11 without the glam of the Bellagio — with a couple of excellent car chases and vicious fights, and the new dimension makes the film accessible to viewers who don’t know a 1970 Dodge Charger from a 2010 Toyota Prius while still providing pedal-to-the-metal thrills for original fans. When last we saw our heroes Dom (Vin Diesel) and former FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker), the latter was breaking the former out of state custody by crashing the prison-bound bus in which Dom was riding. (No one is killed though the bus flips about 40 times; innocent bystanders fare well in this movie to keep the heroes pure.) Fast Five opens with that rescue, following Dom, Brian and Dom’s sister/Brian’s girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) on the lam into the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro. Prudence suggests they should lay low. And yet, they’re still tempted by the lure of Hollywood’s bright and shiny cliché, the “one last job,” so that they can take the money and disappear off the radar for good. Trouble is, the job goes awry (after the robbery of a moving train with a jaw-dropping ending). The trio discovers a secret hidden in one of the cars they steal, and soon they’re at odds not only with a Rio crime lord (Joaquim de Almeida) but also a pumped-up federal agent (Dwayne Johnson, in full raging badass mode) determined to bring them home to face justice. What else can they do but get the old gang back together and try to steal the bad guy’s cash while evading the law? The film is as silly as this sounds, and yet somehow it works, so long as you don’t dwell on such questions as: If these guys are so broke, how can they afford an endless supply of equipment to set up the heist? Why would a pretty female agent be so easily swayed by Dom, who possesses all the charm of an engine block? Why is Johnson glistening like he’s just greased up for a wrestling match? Fortunately the action is well choreographed and intense enough to take your mind off such musings. Bringing back familiar characters from the earlier movies also proves inspired. A mostly funny supporting cast, which includes Tyrese as the group’s dynamic sweet talker and rapper Ludacris as a guy who just wants enough money to open a garage, distracts you from the hilarity of scenes that require Diesel to exhibit emotion. This franchise has primarily been aimed at young male viewers, but the screenwriters have also apparently wised up to the fact that this audience brings girlfriends to the movies, and so a family-oriented theme runs throughout. The fact that that bit of manipulation works, too — along with a teaser ending setting up a Fast Six — indicates this franchise has no plans ever to slow down.
Movie InfoCast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne Johnson.
Director: Justin Lin.
Screenwriters: Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson.
Producers: Vin Diesel, Michael Fottrell, Neal H. Moritz.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 130 minutes. Intense scenes of violence and action, sexual material, language. Playing at: area theaters.