Fast Five: Some franchises just operate with an extraordinarily slow learning curve. Look at the Child’s Play movies, for example (no, please, do). The first one is a cool stupid killer-doll horror movie. Then there’s two lame sequels that explore this concept to diminishing returns. Then, finally, parts four and five, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, actually take the series in a direction worth exploring. It’s not a particularly innovative direction: dark, campy horror-comedy. In fact, it’s so obvious that you might wonder why they didn’t get there with the first round of sequels.
As goes Chucky, so goes Vin Diesel, only a little bit more lumbering, because Diesel’s triumphant (by which I mean profitable) return to the Fast and the Furious franchise, 2009’s fourth installment Fast & Furious, was a bit of a dud: a couple of great stunts in between a whole lot of the usual cops-n-crooks and street-racing bullshit. But get this: in Fast Five, director Justin Lin actually cuts away from street-racing bullshit. The big race to win some awesome (and plot-irrelevant) souped-up car happens off-camera. This is because Fast Five completes the franchise’s transition from gritty street-level B-movie to car-chase/heist series. It’s a smart move: this is the best Fast/Furious movie since the original, and easily the most fun of the series.
Justin Lin has been taking care of business since 2006’s Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a movie I have only seen on cable, and which apparently has a decent following as a surprisingly high-quality series entry but to my eyes was, you know, garish and stupid and uneventful—basically, The Fast and the Furious minus the anti-charisma of Diesel and then also minus the just plain non-charismatic Paul Walker (so: better than 2 Fast 2 Furious, but still a net negative). He shepherded the Diesel/Walker reunion of the last entry, too, and with Fast Five, he has access to a whole Fast/Furious universe of which casual fans may be faintly to completely unaware. This is truly the Ocean’s 11 of meatheaded screeching-tire movies, in that it has several stars leading a passel of inconsequential character actors whom you might recognize from other movies (the difference here is that those other movies are probably exclusively previous Fast/Furious pictures).
You’ve got Tyrese and Ludacris from the second movie, Sung Kang from the third and fourth, some supporting dude from the first, and so on. The point is not so much their chemistry en masse (it’s medium to low) but rather that it takes a village of thugs to knock over a drug dealer’s fortune in Rio. I think. Maybe the point is: early in the movie they steal some cars off of a train and then drive off a cliff, and then later, they drag a bank safe around Rio and coordinate defensive driving around it. Also, The Rock is chasing them most of the time, and he fights Vin Diesel. I can put up with a lot more babbling about quarter-miles of road if you throw me the kind of well-executed smackdowns so sorely missing from The Expendables last summer. Lin turns out to be a decent, even playful action director.
There are still franchise-wide problems, like how just about every goddamned movie in this series insists that at least one female character is as tough and badass as the guys before sidelining her during most of the coolest action. Three-movie veteran Jordana Brewster (still foxy in 2011, good for her!) must be used to this strategy: pose for one unconvincing driving insert shot, then spend the rest of the movie the Fast/Furious equivalent of barefoot and pregnant, which is to say in a sundress sitting at a computer (and, oh yeah, spoiler alert, actually pregnant). It should also be noted that classic heist elements such as the ringleader, the plan, and the witty banter all come off thunderously stupid here. But the stupidity is delivered with more relish than usual: everyone is just shy of literally winking at the camera the way Bow Wow did in Tokyo Drift (it happened! I swear it happened!).
At 130 minutes, this is far more Fast Five than even fans could have asked for [Just this this review! I keed, I keed. -Ed.]; occasionally, its muchness detracts from its leaner B-movie roots. But it also detracts from the fucking tedious second, third, and fourth movies, and just about every other movie Diesel and The Rock have made in the past five or six years, which is great, because all of those movies deserve it. Remember when The Rock strode purposefully through a tedious revenge movie called Faster last fall? Maybe this is where he was striding.
Prom: You could make a totally entertaining Superbad type of comedy about the rituals leading up to a high school prom; I’m guessing Disney elected not to do that, but they also elected not to send anyone from the Musical High School or Camp Rock or Lemonade Junior College, or whatever any of that stuff is, into this movie, so I guess it could be worse. It is a shame, though, that the job of making teen movies has been passed on to Disney, who has in turn passed the job of viewing teen movies mostly to kids who aren’t teenagers yet.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night: Apparently Brandon Routh and Sam Huntington had an amazing time making Superman Returns together, because they’re reteamed on another fantasy-effects type movie that looks like it cost approximately one tenth as much as the catering on Superman Returns (people always use studio catering as a standard expense-comparison tool for smaller movies. I am picturing massive chocolate fountains and cake every day, possibly because foodwise I’m often five years old). I have no idea if “Dylan Dog” is some kind of comics character, but he must be, right? Screenwriters can be awful, but they can’t really get away with naming a character “Dylan Dog” unless it’s the name of some property some producer thinks will have name recognition. [Italian comics, apparently. -Ed.]
Routh plays, uh, Dog, some sort of paranormal investigator. Case number one: am I on SyFy?! Case number two: Has it come to this?! I actually quite like Routh and think he’s kind of funny; his Clark Kent was one of my favorite things about Superman Returns, a movie I am generally pretty pleased with (yeah, you nerds complained at the time, or rather a month or two after the time, but we’ll see how you like it when Superman gets Snyderized in 2012. Then again, he did get Amy Adams for Lois Lane, thus securing my opening-night dollars). [Superman Returns is really underrated, I think, a classy and sincere movie about the anxiety of archetypes. Actually on my Top 10 list in 2006. -Ed.] But anyway, yeah, I’m not so sure Routh should be bringing poor impressionable Jimmy Olson into such a crummy-looking enterprise, but it’s cute to see him looking out for his pals.
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil: Give the choice, I would see a Dylan Dog/Prom double-feature, possibly twice, before I’d consider sitting through a sequel to Hoodwinked! I heard the first movie was vaguely clever in a cheap who-cares sort of way, but the trailer for the sequel is so screensaver-hideous in its animation, so cheap in its fairy-tale skewering (how delightfully subversive!… exclaimed people in 1964 who saw “Fractured Fairy Tales” on The Bullwinkle Show), so full of extreme grandmas and squeaky animals spouting non-jokes like “awkward!” and such, that it nearly made my head explode. Then Rango started and the swelling went down; no such advantage will accompany actually seeing Hoodwinked Too.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Werner Herzog brings us on a 3D-enhanced tour of cave drawings. My only real problem with Herzog’s fantastic recent nature-ish docs has to do with his telling-not-so-much-showing (albeit soothing and often hilarious) narration, which will probably be more helpful in a cave-painting exploration movie, although probably not as transcendent as Grizzly Man because, you know, what is?