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High 'Five'; Action comes fast and furious in muscle-bound caper

You've no doubt been wondering: Can you steal a Ferrari from one of the boxcars on a train while it's still speeding through the landscape? No? You haven't?

Well, then, how about rescuing a guy dangling off a tractor from that speeding train before an oncoming bridge shears him in half? Or if a fellow on a California prison bus going 70 mph on a deserted road to Lompoc Prison for a 25-year sentence (no parole) can be sprung by his friends? And if $100 million can be stolen from a state-of-the-art vault located in the perfectly protected bowels of a police station?

And now let's get down to cases about "Fast Five": Who would win in a knockdown, drag-out cage match, Vin Diesel or Dwayne (formerly "The Rock") Johnson, the leading muscle-bound behemoths in the cinematic generation after Schwarzenegger and Stallone?

Your movie has arrived. "Fast Five," the newest installment in the world-touring, motor-revving, steroid "Fast and Furious" franchise about law-flouting, globe-trotting street racers lamming out from The Man all over the world.

They've been to Japan. They're in Rio De Janeiro in "Fast Five" -- distant shots of Sugar Loaf mountain, up close and personal shots of Rio's slums, passing shots of gorgeous Rio women walking down the street wearing mini-dresses and going commando.

Our boy Diesel, the greatest street racer of them all is the one going up the river for his 25-year stretch. Once his buddies spring him with some vehicular razzle-dazzle on the highway (see the bus roll over and over), he hightails it to Rio and decides to gather the best in the business to steal $100 million from the city's drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida).

Paul Walker, as always, is Vin's main man. This time, here comes Johnson as his mountain-sized Fed nemesis.

Don't worry that this might be veering off into the direction of an elegant caper film a la "Rififi" and "Topkapi" in movie history -- or merely a clever one like the remake of "The Italian Job" full of all those mini-Coopers zipping through Euro-streets. This is a movie where the caper depends on an exploding toilet.

The trouble with many modern action movies, as you know, is that they're cut so fast that they figure velocity will completely make up for the haphazardness and incoherence. And the action scenes of the first hour of "Fast Five" are a perfect exhibit of that. In fights, shootouts, etc., the Cuisinart editing style makes it difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly who's who and what's what in every scene.

In this way, a lot of less-than-talented folks have become "action film directors."

It's a major worry with a supposedly amiable piece of B-grade megaplex fodder like "Fast Five." It bothered me a lot -- until the movie's action set piece.

Which I won't describe in detail, lest I ruin it for you but it involves our boys Walker and Diesel in separate speeding cars dragging an exceedingly heavy object through the streets of downtown Rio.

It's totally absurd. And maybe, just maybe, worth seeing the movie for. And, at that movie moment, director Justin Lin suddenly seems to remember that it might not be a bad idea even with all that rapid cutting, if audience members could satisfactorily locate and acclimate themselves with every shot, no matter how brief.

It's not as bravura as it would have been if a major filmmaker had been in charge, but in years to come when action movie lovers gather to laugh at truly absurd action showpieces they've seen, this one won't be forgotten.

I won't tell you either who wins the big muscle brawl between Diesel and Johnson, but the denouement is very satisfying. I'll have to give the movie that.

At the end of the movie, we're set up for all possible rematches.

How about setting it in Milwaukee next time? Or even Buffalo? By then, all that "Fast and Furious" sun has got to be getting on everyone's nerves.




2 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

STARRING: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris    

DIRECTOR: Justin Lin    

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes    

RATING: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language.    

THE LOWDOWN: The newest installment in "The Fast and the Furious" saga of street racing lawbreakers who are masters of automotive gymnastics.

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