When an unstoppable bald force meets an immovable bald object, the result is Fast Five (Universal), the fifth installment in the Fast and the Furious series, which pits burly car thief Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) against even burlier Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) in the favelas of Rio. Back for more drag racing, prison-bus-jacking, and other automotive mayhem are nearly all the regulars of the Fast franchise: Jordana Brewster as Dominic's lissome sister Mia, Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner, the FBI-agent-turned-fugitive who loves her, and a lineup of trash-talking, racially diverse speed demons that includes Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Sung Kang, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, and Gail Gadot.
All these old pals reunite in a grungy garage in Rio for—no, seriously, Vin Diesel says this line—"one last job," a deliriously overambitious heist in which they propose to steal all the cash stowed around the city in safe houses by a Brazilian gangster (Joaquim de Almeida) who has the entire carioca police force in his pocket. How will they do it? The scheme involves train robbery, stolen police cars, bombs placed in toilet stalls, and a chase through the streets of Rio dragging an enormous bank vault on a chain, but that's not important right now. What matters is that the Fast gang is a family—one that's about to expand, now that Mia is pregnant with O'Conner's child. This theme is one Fast Five returns to again and again—Who's in the family? Who's out? Once you get kicked out of the family, is there any way back in again?
The movie's insistence that its motley crew of sensation-seeking gearheads is bound by a shared set of deeper values may account for Fast Five's incongruous sweetness. Yes, most of this film's running time consists of muscle-bound men fistfighting and leaping off corrugated tin rooftops, but it still feels like a movie about a group of people who know and love one another (and whom the audience, at least at the rowdy public screening I attended, knows and loves as well.) Diesel's Dom Toretto is a gruff but affectionate father to his loyal pack of renegades, providing them with barbecue, protection, and a rough moral code to live by. With his authoritative basso voice and sad-eyed, bearlike demeanor, Diesel recalls the young Sylvester Stallone, at once fearsome alpha male and loveable lug. Dwayne Johnson, as Dom's nemesis on the police force, both looks and talks like a child's movable action figure, lending the men's numerous mano-a-mano encounters a goofy Godzilla vs. King Kong quality.
Justin Lin, who's now directed three movies in the Fast series, knows how to choreograph and edit an action sequence so that it's more than an onslaught of chopped-up images and grating noise. One train chase early on is particularly exhilarating in its gleeful defiance of both plot logic and physics. Fast Five is unapologetically excited about things that go vroom-vroom, as aptly spoofed in this Onion interview with the film's purported 5-year-old screenwriter ("I want the cars to drive fast and then they explode!"). If you can overlook the collateral casualty count racked up in the wildly excessive car-chase sequences, that spirit of boyish enthusiasm can be infectious. As the summer of 2011 approaches with the speed of a souped-up Dodge Charger, I'm going to take my action-movie blessings where I can find them.