The Fast and the Furious

It’s the moment that we’ve all been waiting for!

No, not when Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson throw each other through a series of windows, as they sweat nails in a scuffle only missing a cage (but the moment when The Rock spits out broken glass is precious.)

It’s rather when, after surviving an urban warfare ambush in a armor-plated Humvee, these two macho adversaries lock Marine-thick forearms to climb off the ground in a show of respect. It’s the sort of pure man moment that touches every guy’s id. Director Justin Lin even lathers it in slow motion. You think about that first wheelie on your bike. You think about peeling out your first car. And damn it, for a brief moment you allow the words “best movie ever” to tickle the inside of your lips.

It’s at that instant that we reach the hyper manmageddon toward which the “Fast and the Furious” series has been driving since its beginning in 2002. I’m not sure if the movie is actually any good, but it does seem to reach some kind of an ideal.

As ideals go, it’s not ashamed to be a lizard-brained one. The only apparent logic appears to be the male id. This is an ideal of fast cars, machine guns, stringy babes, roadway smashups, somersaulting buses, a deadly double-cross by the richest man in Brazil, and a plot to steal millions from the vault of a Rio police station. It’s like the filmmakers read all the scholarly feminist criticism and shouted “Hell yeah!”

Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster return from the four previous adventures. A cast of all-stars return from the scattered remains of the previous outings. That sound you hear isn’t the screech of wheels. It’s the sound of the air quotes digging in around the word “stars.” No one in this five-film series has gone on to more success, and this is a profitable refuge for a number of them.

If the old cast members are the protons in the nucleus of the testosterone atom, then it was inevitable that they would attract Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, as a take-no-prisoners federal agent. All buff, goateed, and camp, he’s perfect for the role. His vein-bulging intensity has a way of being scary and comic at the same time. One of the film’s small drawbacks is it spends too much time on the supporting team and not enough on The Rock.

There are three deliciously unreal action set pieces. The first is a fantastic piece of work, a superb car heist from a moving train at one-hundred miles an hour in the desert that keeps upping the ante. The second, a rooftop to rooftop chase through the favelas, stands out by having three different sides: good guys, bad guys, and cops. In the last, a moving bank vault takes out half the storefronts in Rio as the anti-heroes try to outrun the cops. This is the weakest of the three–the editing is poor, and it’s too easy to see the moviemaking rather than the movie magic.

“The Fast and The Furious” first appeared in 2002, it came at the end of two decades of steroidal male-action heroes. By then the exhaust was coming from something more than the tailpipe. But everything old becomes new again. In an era in which shrimpy nerds like Jesse Eisenberg or Emile Hirsch vie for leading man stardom, the muscular escapism of “Fast Five” feels like a delirious relief.