‘Fast Five': Grindingly Mechanical, But With Car Porn, Who Cares?

The fifth in the series moves from just pedal-to-the-metal into “Ocean’s Eleven” territory

Car porn, judging from the blissful grins on the many men in the audience at the screening I saw of “Fast Five” in Manhattan, is as beloved by a certain half of the population as real porn.

To qualify as car porn, a movie must treat the vehicles shown — mostly muscle cars — with the same reverence and adoration, if not more, that it shows its human stars. The camera must caress every metallic line on the vehicles, the lighting and cinematography bring out their shiny gleam, and the soundtrack enhance the purr and roar of their accelerating engines. 

It’s not enough that the cars in car-porn movies look good — they also must perform with va-va-vroom. These babies must go fast, bash into other cars, into trucks, into trains and into inanimate objects … and then blow up. The noisier the better.

 

An emphasis on and appreciation for cars has taken the “Fast and Furious” franchise a long way. The first, “The Fast and the Furious,” which starred Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, came out 10 years ago and focused on the subculture of street racing and car theft in Los Angeles.

Two years later, “2 Fast 2 Furious” was set in Miami and had Walker driving fast and bringing down a drug dealer. The third, 2006’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” relocated to Japan and tried putting in a no-name cast and making the cars the stars. The last film, 2009’s “Fast & Furious,” re-teamed Walker and Diesel (as well as bringing back Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez, the female leads from “The F&F”), and had them zipping between L.A. and Mexico to bring down a drug dealer.

Three out of the four of the original stars (Diesel, Walker and Brewster) are back for “Fast Five” — and the movie delivers all the fast cars, action and tough guy talk fans could want. Two hours and three minutes worth.

Director Justin Lin, who handled the third and fourth films, returns for another lap, adroitly putting it through its paces: Open with a well-executed, high-speed stunt sequence in which Walker and Brewster help Diesel escape from a prison bus? Check. Send everyone down to Rio and mix up atmospheric shots contrasting beaches and favelas? Check. Stage a robbery in which fancy sports cars are downloaded from a moving train and then driven off at top speed through the desert? Check.

As for plot, we get our boys are on the run from the law. To finance a permanent escape to an extradition-free paradise, they plan an elaborate $11 million heist of funds belonging to a powerful Brazilian drug lord.

By cleverly putting more emphasis on the mechanics of assembling the crew for a heist and carrying off a complicated robbery, “Fast Five” sets up for a focal switch in the franchise away from just pedal-to-the-metal to more of an “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Italian Job” kind of mode.

It also introduces Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson into the mix as a steely law enforcement officer who likely — per a scene at the end credits — has a future with the franchise or in a spin-off series.

All of that said, “Fast Five” is grindingly   mechanical — and not just because of all the emphasis on car repairs and retooling. It’s full of expository howlers (“You realize we’re gonna go up against the most powerful guy in Rio and take all of his money?” asks Walker, recapitulating the basic plot for those who may have gone out for popcorn).

And it doesn’t help that Diesel, Walker and Johnson collectively have an expressive range as wide as a stick of gum.

But, silly me, no one goes to these movies for the acting or lyrical dialogue. They want tough. And really, does it get any tougher than having Johnson, when instructing an underling to shadow a suspect, say, “If he goes to the john, I want to know how many times he shakes it.”

If Shakespeare had lived in an age when he could have climbed into a Corvette, Pantera or Ford GT40 — all autos that streak through “Five” — I’m sure he would have written exactly that same line.