18. Fast Five

Fast Five is the best Fast & Furious flick because having fun is fun.

The series hit its stride with Five, stepping out of the street-race underworld into full-blown blockbuster land. The action got grander over subsequent installments, but death’s dark shadow reared also. In Furious 6, my favorite character gets killed, and whither Gisele’s requiem? It got genuinely sad with Furious 7, when Paul Walker – the handsome natural athlete who so perfectly portrayed ex-cop Brian O’Conner – died during filming.

Five is The Bright. It’s a straight-up heist, cooked with essential ingredients: a team of outlaws, each filling a role; a ruthless gangster who deserves what’s coming; a dedicated, enormous cop on their tales, mucking everything up. The pot of cash is a cool hundred million, and it doesn’t come easy.

This isn’t necessarily a complaint, but Furious 6 takes the action past far. The tank battle in the middle of that movie feels like a resounding finale, and then the actual finale – a plane battle – is absolutely fucking bonkers. Fast Five, on the other hand, builds smoothly. It begins with a high-speed train robbery, then finds a nice groove. A shootout leads to a foot race through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Quick and deadly action, but nothing too nuts. As the team crafts its plan, a military police station is cleverly infiltrated, and cars must be stolen so of course there’s a street race.

The fist fight between Vin Diesel and (superstar professional wrestler) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is an epic symphony of grunting and suplexes and wall smashes and the bassy whomps of lunchbox-sized fists punching through giant bald heads. It’s classic, but merely the appetizer to the heist itself, a chase through the streets of Rio that’s so ballsy – two speeding muscle cars tow a massive vault – that O’Conner can’t stop smiling and exclaiming “Holy shit” as palm trees and police cars explode all around him.

The musical cue at the end, when everything resolves, hits exactly right. It’s a dance number by one of Fast Five’s stars, Don Omar, with a fast, fun beat just like the movie’s.

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