Fast Five (2011): Justin Lin’s Fifth Chapter of Franchise Fast and the Furious, Starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker

“Fast Five,” the fifth segment of The Fast and the Furious, the popular franchise that began a decade ago, may not be the best in the series, but it’s certainly an improvement over the past two chapters.

(In 2001, as chief critic of Screen Int’l, I was one of the few reviewers to like the first chapter.

As director, Justin Lin has sharpened his skills in staging thrilling action sequences, delivering the goods of a pop corn summer entertainment.

The film, which has already opened in the U.K. and other countries, signals the unofficial beginning of the Hollywood summer season, even if it’s released in April (April 29 to be exact).

You don’t go to a movie like “Fast Five,” or any of its previous installments, for provocative ideas, or intriguing plot, or involving characters.  You go to experience thrill ride.

The filmmakers have made a number of shrewd decisions, the most prominent of which is keeping the original cast (Vin Diesel and Paul Walker), while bringing new actors, such as Dwayne Johnson (who seems to have a special appeal among younger viewers).

In fact, “Fast Five” is sort of a class reunion, bringing stars from every previous chapter. Among the returning thespians are Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kag, Ga Gadot, Matt Schultze, Tego Calderon, and Don Omar.

Chris Morgan, who most recently penned the Angelina Jolie’s actioner “Wanted,” writes from characters that had bee created by Gary Scott Thompson

While Lin and his associates do not take the globally-oriented series to new a new height, they have upped the ante in terms of the spectacle: The action set-pieces are spectacular in both senses of the term.

You may recall that the series began in the mean streets of Los Angeles, centering on racers bound by a strict code of ethics that revolves around family and loyalty.  It then switched to Miami’s race circuit, exposed the underworld of Tokyo drifting and rocketing, before getting to underneath the U.S.-Mexico border.

The plot per se is rather simple. Former cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) teams up with former conman Dom Toretto (Diesel) in a new, exotic locale, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.

Some background is in order: Brian and Mia Toretto

(Brewster), who broke Dom out of custody, have managed to elude the authorities. Now living in Rio, they are determined to pull off one job–it always promises to be the last one—in order to gain their freedom.

Very much what could be described as an action- recruitment picture, “Fast Five” depicts the execution of a risky mission that depends on the assembling of an elite team of top operatives, one composed of reliable pros and friends.  The specific task is to orchestrate an outrageous heist, which is worth at least $100 million.

Dom and Brian realize that their only chance to succeed is by crippling a corrupt businessman

(Joaquim De Almeida), who, for his part, wishes nothing but death upon them.  But there are other threatening figures that are after the allies’ tails.

Take Luke Hobbs, who’s described as hard-nosed federal (well cast with Johnson), a macho man who never misses a target. When Luke is assigned to track down Dom and Brian, he and his team launch an assault to capture them.

Ambiguity reins: Hobbs gradually realizes that it’s impossible to separate the good guys from the bad. Which means that he can trust no one but his own instincts to corner his prey—before someone else runs them down first.

The characters are shallow and narrowly conceived, but they are engaging—they represent sort of cool, modern-day cowboys, with their cars replacing horses in the exciting chases and shootouts.

Among several merits, ”Fast Five” is one of the few mainstream Hollywood actioners to acknowledge the new demographic face of American society, blending together Caucasian, black, Asian, Latino and other ethnic minorities.