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Discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of any installment of the Fast & Furious series cannot involve niceties like ‘plot’ or ‘character development’ or ‘narrative arcs’. These things just get in the way of the actual reason people watch movies like this – a series about fast cars, macho men and (I suppose) hot women. Examples of the latter were in serious short supply until the fourth episode of this series. I am aware that Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez and Eva Mendez made their presence felt in earlier editions of the series but to my mind the first hot girl was Gal Gadot in the Fast & Furious, the best episode in this series.

Sadly Fast Five does not improve upon the developments in its immediate predecessor. Because those pesky plot developments and character arcs get in the way of some good ol’ mayhem on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. That’s right, the action has shifted to Brazil and after the early scenes recap what we knew from the end of the previous movie we are brought right into the thick of things. Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) have arrived in Rio, as evidenced by the dramatic establishing shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue, and they are immediately hooked up with Vince (Matt Schulze) whom we haven’t seen since the first movie in this series. He is a little thicker, has a Brazilian wife and son, and he hooks the couple up with a job. It ain’t exactly easy and it ain’t exactly legal.

Dominic (Vin Diesel) gets a nice dramatic introduction during said job and we are off and running. The action scenes are fun, inventive and loud enough to make you feel them. That’s really not the problem here. Perhaps director Justin Lin felt like he wasn’t exercising his dramatic muscles enough because he tries to get all his stars to act – big mistake. While it is really satisfactory to watch Diesel and Dwayne Johnson (as hard-ass government-sanctioned bounty hunter Hobbs) punch the living daylights out of each other, it really is no fun to watch the latter say his lines. New entrant Elsa Pataky (as an incorruptible Brazilian cop) looks good, in and out of uniform, but she is just one more in a cast of characters that already includes returning members from previous films. Trouble with getting all these folks together for one big family reunion? Everybody needs to have lines to say, which means a lot of time is spent in the yammering and not enough time is devoted to the hammering.

When things go boom, they do so in satisfactory fashion. The cramped geography of the average favella is very nicely captured through overhead shots during chases and aerial photography during establishing scenes. A battle sequence in the street manages to invoke the cramped-quarters showdown of Black Hawk Down while simultaneously being its own animal. Tidy sound design, effective editing and a deep affinity for destruction makes it all come together very nicely when this motley crew stops talking.

So is it good? I’d have to say it is good enough. If it had been thirty minutes shorter, who knows, it might have been great – as a popcorn summer movie. This puppy ain’t winning any awards, but as that first weekend at the US box office has proven, it is going to make a lot of money. And I’m quite bullish on the idea to take this franchise forward as a series of heist movies instead of the high octane racing-oriented films they have been thus far.

If you are an adrenaline junkie, you’ve got to check this one out. Just keep an energy drink handy for the dramatic portions of the film. And on your way home, please drive safe!

Oh yeah, one more thing: stay for the end credits. There is a nice juicy surprise at the end.