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Review: 'Fast Five' is a thrill ride, so just go with it

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
Lots of familiar faces have returned for the latest "Fast" installment.
Lots of familiar faces have returned for the latest "Fast" installment.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 'Fast Five" is the latest in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise
  • Several of the films former stars return including Vin Diesel and Paul Walker
  • The new film takes place in Brazil and offers lots of stunts and action
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(CNN) -- "The men we're after are professional runners. We find them, we take them and we bring them back. And above all else, we never, ever, let them get into cars."

Easier said than done, you might think -- though the way Dwayne Johnston stumbles over the line, it's not so easily said, either.

Every couple of years brings another upgrade in the street racing/heist movie franchise, "The Fast and the Furious." The series trades in slick auto mayhem, pneumatic stars and pulp sentiment, in that order.

It's a durable combination -- these are the kinds of movies Roger Corman was churning out for the drive-ins 40 years ago, only he'd probably produce two flicks for the price of three minutes' screen action today.

Over the decade since undercover cop Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) first infiltrated the carjacking gang led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), then fell in love with Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), the "Fast" movies have inflated exponentially, accruing bigger budgets and more outrageous stunts.

They have also picked up a revolving roster of multi-ethnic stars, including Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris (in "2 Fast 2 Furious"), Puerto Rican rapper Tego Calderon, Israeli hottie Gal Gadot, and Korean-American Sung Kang (who first appeared in the third film, "Tokyo Drift," and who has journeyed back in time to appear in 2009's unimaginatively titled "Fast and Furious" and again here).

Walker and Diesel have come and gone over the years as their ambitions have waxed and waned without ever quite deciding who's in the driving seat or relinquishing bragging rights over the series, and all of the above are back for Mach 5. It has the makings of the most over-populated caper since "Ocean's Thirteen." But even with the extra muscle of The Rock's imported "Old Testament" supercop, it's considerably leaner than that and an unpretentious effort with a good deal of humor on the side.

"Wanted" screenwriter Chris Morgan hasn't exactly reinvented the wheel here, but at least he's provided a change of scenery, taking Dom and the gang down to Rio de Janeiro, where they waste no time in declaring war on favela drug kingpin Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida).

In keeping with the series' inverted morality, the double-dealing Reyes has the entire Brazilian police department on his payroll. In the script's cleverest gambit, our honorable thieves steel themselves to break into the police station, where Reyes has stashed multimillions in cash. In the dumbest, Johnson's self-righteous hard case helps them try.

Almost certainly the worst acted movie you'll see all year, "Fast Five" makes up in personality what it lacks in subtlety.

When he's not gunning engines or breaking heads, Vin Diesel really does seem to believe in Toretto's oft-repeated family values. A souped-up Buddha with bulging biceps and a voice as gravelly as a back country road, Diesel is such a nonchalant action hero, he's practically oblivious, utterly benign even as he's reducing Rio's transport infrastructure to the Stone Age. Collateral damage is not on this movie's radar.

The thrillingly ridiculous stunts fall thick and fast for the first 30 minutes -- including a train gag that's almost as off the rails as the opening scene in "Toy Story 3" -- before the action takes a back seat to modestly involving criss-cross plotting.

Director Justin Lin ostentatiously leaves one street race off-screen, putting the onus on the heist this time. His confidence is not misplaced. By this stage of the game everyone knows the drill, and their camaraderie is infectious. It's is easily the most satisfying of Lin's three "Fast" films, a good time if not exactly a good movie.

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