Review: Fast & Furious 5

(M) ***

Director: Justin Lin.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson.

THERE'S a certain formula to the Fast & Furious series: hot cars, hot women and... well... that's about it.

The first film succeeded because it felt fresh with its cops-versus-street-racers set-up, but interest waned until Diesel returned to re-fuel the tank for the fourth installment.

Now we have F&F5, but before you yawn, hear this: it may well be the best one of the series so far.

It picks up where F&F4 left off, with ex-cop Brian O'Conner (Walker) and his buddies freeing Dominic Toretto (Diesel) from a prison bus and going on the lam to Rio de Janiero.

Unable to resist the temptation, Brian, Dom and Dom's sister Mia take a job stealing cars from a train, which lands them in the crosshairs of Brazilian crimelord Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) as well as some American agents (led by Dwayne "No Longer The Rock" Johnson).

Where F&F5 gets interesting is when it effectively becomes an Oceans film, embracing the heist genre to excellent effect. By bringing together a who's who of the previous four films, facing them off against two sets of antagonists, and throwing in a bank job unlike any you've ever seen before, the film-makers have found a way to re-inflate the series' tyres while giving it a new paint job.

In taking a new tact (which was starting to happen in the previous film), the F&F team have also broadened the appeal of the series. No longer just an extended piece of car porn for rev-heads, the movies are becoming broader action capers that finally put the characters and their situation ahead of the shiny automobiles.

Don't go looking for anything particularly deep beneath the sleek exterior though. A few moments saluting the importance of family - whether you're brought together by blood or a thirst for crime - are the only relief from the action, which is wall-to-wall.

But that's what you go to a film like this for - the foot-to-the-floor adrenaline - and that's why this succeeds. The final heist is a ripper, the opening car-vs-train set-piece is very cool, and the favelas of Rio once again prove to be the perfect setting for some running and gunning.

It's big, loud, dumb, over-the-top and mostly substanceless. But it works, perhaps better than ever before.

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