Saturday, April 30, 2011
Justin Lin's "Fast Five" (opened April 29 throughout San Diego) opened the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival last week but I'm not sure Lin's total assimilation into the Hollywood industry is cause for celebration.
"Fast Five" is the fifth film in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise but in terms of chronology it comes before "Tokyo Drift," which was film number three. And the only reason you can tell that is that the character played by Sung Kang, who died in "Tokyo Drift," is alive in "Fast Five." And that's not a spoiler since that info has been out there for five years. But Kang displays a brand of Asian cool that is easy to like and you can see why Lin would want to resurrect him rather than find someone new.
So the latest sequel has shaved words off the title length but not off the time. "Fast Five" clocks in at two hours and ten minutes and the surprise is that Lin manages to keep the pace pretty fast and furious. But "Fast Five," with Vin Diesel and the Rock squaring off, is so full of testosterone and brawn that there is no room for any brains. In fact there's no room for the laws of physics either. This is an action film in the vein of "Live Free and Die Hard" -- big, dumb, and ridiculous fun. Lin is at least smart enough to dispense with reality early on. When a massive bus crash leaves NO ONE hurt and then Diesel and Paul Walker drive a car off a huge cliff and jump out of the car and crash into the water without a scratch, well that pretty much announces that the laws of physics do not apply in this universe. And that's fine. Lin is up front and honest that we should not do the math when it comes to the formula he's using.
So this time out, the story begins with Dominic (Vin Diesel) in jail and Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) must break him out in a daring, daylight escape involving crashing a bus. This moves them all to the top of the most wanted list so they flee the U.S. and head south to the favelas of Rio. Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is a special agent sent to track them down and bring them back no matter what the cost. The trio also tangle with a local crime lord and decide to take him down and steal his $100 million stash. This involves a ridiculous heist in which a massive, multi-ton safe is dragged through the streets of Rio defying -- once again -- all laws of physics as no one is injured and the cars towing the safe never flip even when the tow lines cross.
If you can shut off your brain and enjoy fast cars and ripped biceps and pects, then this is the film for you. The film defies logic and reason in such a big way that you really can't complain about it because it's obviously not a concern for the filmmakers that have just created something of an alternate universe. So when the fugitives are hiding out and have a multi-ton safe shipped to them, we don't ask how Fed Ex managed to find their secret hideout or get it up those tiny favela streets, or how they managed to deliver it without the Feds or the local crime lord noticing.
Some have joked about the special effect of making Vin Diesel and The Rock look like they are the same height. When the two have their big brawl, there's never a long shot uninterrupted by cuts to get a good look at how they stack up but having seen The Rock at Comic-Con my guess is Vin must be standing on an apple box for some shots. And their battle reminded me of one of those kaiju battles from Godzilla and I was half expecting some of those giant monster sound effects and slow motion like what was done in "Crank 2." That would have be sweet!
But Lin, while having some action fun, doesn't really have the kind of pop culture sense of fun that say Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") has. Lin may not take himself too seriously but he's not willing to go one step further and really have fun with it. At one point I was waiting for a scene like in "Shaun of the Dead" where the two sets of identical characters pass each other. In "Fast Five," Dominic's team and Hobbs' team mirror each other so there is the muscle bound leader, sexy Latina, Asian dude, buff African American guy, worthless white guy, smart female...
"Fast Five" (rated PG-13) is an early mindless summer flick. Lin may have carved out a niche for himself with this "Fast and Furious" franchise. But I hope he won't forget that he came from indie roots and will one day return to some more personal filmmaking. I'm glad that Lin (who attended UCSD at one point) is finding success in Hollywood and that the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival honored him by premiering his film but I hope that "Fast Five" will not be held as the standard of success for Asian filmmakers and stars. I hope there will be room for enough diversity that Lin will be able to also make more films like "Better Luck Tomorrow" that really challenge ethnic stereotypes. That's what true diversity in the media is really all about -- choice, for both the creative people behind the scenes and audiences in theaters.
Companion viewing: "Better Luck Tomorrow," "Tokyo Drift," "Initial D," "The French Connection," "Bullitt"