Saturday, 3 September 2011

Film Review: Fast Five

The allure of fast cars, hot girls and ridiculously jacked men as hip-hop blares in the background is probably your average teenage male's ultimate wet dream. I suppose in that sense then one can understand the success of The Fast and the Furious franchise. However, it's still big, loud and dumb, coveting greed and violence in a manner like nothing I've ever seen before.

Like some sort of sequel to The Italian Job, Fast Five might as well be called 'The Brazilian Job'. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is busted out of prison by car-thieving colleague Brian O'Connor (Walker) and sister Mia (Brewster). Heading to Brazil, the gang are reunited in an effort to make an Ocean's 11 style heist on Rio de Janeiro crime lord Hernan Reyes (de Almeida), all the while having to avoid an FBI manhunter with a bunch of impetuous one-liners (Johnson).

As a spectacle in its own right I suppose you could apply the superlatives 'cool' or 'awesome' to Fast Five. Sporting audacious, physics-defying action sequences and slick cinematography, you can't help but feel you're watching an incredibly cool videogame. Indeed, we live in an age where a good script and well-rounded characters are no longer relevant. Screenwriters are no longer as important as the stunt coordinator, which is only highlighted by the byzantine complexity of Fast Five's elaborate car chases. The necessities of the modern film have, for all intents and purposes, made the role of the human being extinct. In those brief moments when there isn't a car flying through the air doing multiple barrel rolls and we're forced to endure a 'person' we can see they are so obviously contrived in a way that they seem a mere second thought to film's next death-defying stunt.

Consequently you won't find the characters in Fast Five an enticing, multi-layered and complex being which enjoyably unravels throughout the film. No sir, the best you'll get are one-dimensional individuals with singular character traits. Toretto looks like and displays about as much character as a concrete slab while O'Connor is his bland understudy banging Toretto's sister, Mia, who's just there to look hot anyway. The rest of the gang all invariably have one skill or another; the ability to bullshit, hack safes or drive like a maniac, but they are defined only in terms of that one thing they do. There is a lame attempt to flesh out Toretto and O'Connor in a one-minute scene where they both gripe about how bad their father's were, blah blah blah, but you'll just wince at how deliberately false it is. Regardless, Vin Diesel remains utterly incapable of showing emotion anyway and in the rare moments where he does try to crack a smile it's just creepy as fuck. In fact, the only character that has any ounce of personality or depth is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's FBI manhunter, Hobbs. Clearly he is enjoying the role and his effervescent presence is actually infectious in a way that you can't help but enjoy proceedings whenever he's onscreen. Indeed, he had me at "Rule number two: stay the fuck out of my way!". However, there's nothing believable about a guy who represents Hollywood's idea of physical and intellectual perfection. Super large, super strong, super smart, just all-round super, he's actually just super ridiculous. But the real spectacle here is the inevitable face off between Toretto and Hobbs; two of the most ludicrously over-inflated caricatures of the male form covered in baby oil who keep sizing each other up in the most homoerotic fashion imaginable.

Indeed, this is not a film about characters but of churlish materialism and bathos masculinity. Fast Five is shallow, valorising greed and violence whilst appealing to the most basic fantasies about money - that it will ironically free you from the very bullshit system that moulded you into a greedy, unsympathetic person in the first place. The problem is that Toretto and his gang are so recklessly irresponsible in their quest for lust and greed that they scarcely give a shit about anyone else around them. Our anti-heros will drive through the streets of Rio dragging a behemothic safe behind them, crashing into cars, bus shelters and offices in flagrant disregard for any of the civilian populace. While of course we never see any innocent women or children splattered across our screen, that would be to miss the point. It still highlights an utter contempt for any human life other than their own, but hey, as long as they still look cool who cares? Yes, you can eviscerate this criticism by saying none of this is real and that morality need not apply in a universe which is blatantly a video game, but the sentiment is still worrying, particularly when art is supposed to reflect society. A discerning audience probably wouldn't read that much into it, take it for what it is, and go along for the ride. However, there is also a segment of the population who might see this sort of thing as a wish fulfilment, indicative of the symptomatic nature and infantile desires of looters in the recent London riots.

Fast Five is preposterous, mind-numbing, testosterone-fuelled nonsense. One 'acquaintance' told me that "the best bit was where a guy was driving really fast and he had a hot girl sitting on his lap". That pretty says it all regarding the type of audience this will predominantly appeal to, which is what I find markedly concerning. And yet, while this is big, dumb and by critical standards not a good film, there's still probably a guilty pleasure to enjoy in here somewhere. That is, if you can separate the spectacle from the abhorrent values it celebrates.