Despite shedding two definite articles and replacing “and” with an ampersand, 2009’s Fast & Furious, the third sequel in the improbable Fast And The Furious series, was far from the model of sleek economy its title suggested. Due to Vin Diesel’s on-and-off involvement and an ever-increasing cast of characters, a franchise built on the simple thrills of fast cars and hot bodies had taken on weight—a word like “mythology” should never have to applied to material this frivolous. By bringing back virtually all the major characters from the previous films and adding another block of concrete in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Fast Five would seem to exacerbate the problem, but it does the opposite. Like a proper action sequel, it’s bigger, louder, and sillier than its predecessors, but it’s more streamlined, too, smartly dumping the tired underground racing angle in favor of a crisp, hugely satisfying Ocean’s Eleven-style heist movie.
After two sequences that top each other for giddy, large-scale ridiculousness—one a prison-bus breakout, the other an audacious attempt to boost cars from a moving train—Fast Five takes up permanent residence in Rio, where former adversaries turned outlaw buddies Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are hiding out. After discovering the location of 10 cash houses operated by Rio’s top criminal mastermind, Diesel and Walker decide to pull an audacious raid for all the money, totaling over $100 million. They assemble a team of familiar rogues for the job—Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, and several others—but a crazy mission gets crazier when Johnson, a relentless federal agent, vows to hunt them down.
Ripping off Rio’s chief power broker while simultaneously dodging the feds turns out to be much more unlikely than stealing three Las Vegas casinos’ worth of cash from an underground vault, but Fast Five makes an asset of its own absurdity. At 130 minutes, it’s the longest of the series, but director Justin Lin and his screenwriter, Chris Morgan, keep turning out larger and more outrageous setpieces until a finale of epic destruction. Fast Five may be lizard-brain escapism—and there’s something unsettling about how it lays waste to Rio’s desperately poor favelas—but nonsense this well-orchestrated is a rare and precious thing.