04 July, 2013

Let's Rap About Fast Five

Thanks to my friend Rachel (and about a dozen other caring people) I was made aware of one of Criterion's 50 Percent Off Sales. After deliberation that's probably lasted a year or so, I decided to purchase one of Stanley Kubrick's lesser known masterpieces Paths of Glory. It arrived this week so, naturally come Saturday night I watched Fast Five.

And let me tell you that Fast Five is quite a movie.

There has been a lot dedicated to this particular moving picture, from How Did This Get Made to Jordan, Jesse Go! to Giant Bomb as well as quite a few others (like my friend who shall remain anonymous who works in the JET program who showed it in his class to, I don't know, teach kids about American euphemisms). Knowing that I am not going to waste your time blathering on just how good or bad it is. It is. It's pretty bad and it's pretty good and in the end it has some of the craziest car sequences that you will ever damn see.

So, anyways, Fast Five, what is it? Who is it? What make car go? Who is rock? Why make crime? These are all good questions and I hope to answer them in turn.

This movie stars a bunch of people, only one of them is Vin Diesel (Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan) and only another one of them is The Rock (The Rundown, DOOM), but most of them are pretty and at least one of them is Paul Walker (Flags of Our Fathers, That Movie Where the Guy Gets Shot With a Shotgun in the Trailer and Flies like a Million Feet).

Nothing about what this movie is makes sense to me and that's sort of the magic. This all starts with the cast. You've got one of the leads,Vin Diesel, who was once known for being something of an indy breakout actor in the late ninties and early two-thousands who then ended up in the Riddick films-- excuse me-- the Riddick Saga and then finally scoring his much sought after yacht fund with the Fast-cum-Furious flicks.

In Fast Five he play a fat guy who everyone in this world is too polite to call "chubby and kind of old and sad," which naturally means that he's a deadly criminal who is really good at cars and, like everyone else, really good at showing up or having people show up at the exact right moment to save the day. Also, he's really good at cars.

Then there's Sir Paul Walker. In this movie he plays a white guy with a t-shirt with a hot girlfriend/baby-mamma (SPOILER!!!). Despite common belief Paul Walker is not the same person Stephen Dorf. In this movie he plays the white guy that doesn't seem to offend anybody by appearing on screen. He's also important because he's the one guy in this movie that we're 100% sure is full-blooded honky.

Then there's the Asian Guy (Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast and Furious 6). His purpose is to bone Tall Natalie Portman. His job in the crew is supposed to be to blend in and be an everyman, which he proves by being Asian man in Fast Five that drives a car super well and is inserted into this film with the specific purpose of boning Tall Natalie Portman. You know, a real everyman. He also, like, looks at a thing once and maybe understands what they are once, which I guess makes him a super-valuable heist team member or a guy with Asperger's. Not exactly justifying his placement on the crew, but then again he does get up in Tall Queen Amadala, so I can see why one would fly two thousand miles on such short notice.

Tall Natalie Portman is their "muscle," whatever the fuck that means. I mean a good half of their crew is yoked to the point of being a poster on the wall of a confused male teenager's wall, but she's their muscle, because I guess they said so. She is notable for not providing muscle at any point in the entire picture. But she does manage to pull the palm print of a criminal off of her ass. Like Asian Guy, she is just kind of there. And that's well enough because the men are just sort of there, as well. Everyone is just sort of there. Black. White. Asian. Latino. Miscellaneous. We are the United Colors of Pointlessness.

Because someone has to make those cars go.

Two dudes just chilling straightly.
The LGBT community is completely unrepresented in this movie except in subtext-- but I'll get to that in a second here-- because gay people require a level of complexity that is simply beyond this movie. The proof of this is that straight people are barely even there. Unless you can do something with a car in this movie (getting married, passing, or whatever else), it doesn't appear as anything more complex than something that could fit on a Post-it.

Then again, I complain a lot about how movies go out of their way to say what's going on. It's why I think Downton Abbey is such a big hit, because nobody ever says what they want or what they're thinking and that simple technique is drama. So, with that said I don't know that we need to establish any homosexual characters when one of the big draws of this film is two sweaty, bald men grappling with each other.

The Fastiverse is a sexless, hateless universe that exists to drive machines with no feelings about your hormone treatment, the president's birth certificate, police brutality, or anything else. In many ways it's as old fashioned of a movie as there is, yet it is rife with Hispanics, the ethnically ambiguous, black people, the casually bilingual, and Asians and dead people and everyone else and none of that matters because they're all here to drive cars real quick like.

To me that is amazing. Fast Five, like the guy in Shine, has somehow managed to allow both some of the most secretly progressive ideas into the film and, yet, manages to make none of them an issue by making their ability to make cars go fast more important. Can you make a car drift? Go get married. Can you make this car jump this ramp? You qualify for a tax deduction. Can you make this car go real, real, real fast? Good. Because I'd be proud to have you as my neighbor.

It works because the film has no idea what it's doing. Hell, for that matter, it isn't just post-racial, it's post-human.

Don't worry they're fine. They landed on some poor people.
It's a thing that is everywhere. It's what society is built around. It's what we got in our hearts. It's what pirates hide and children giggle about. What I'm talking about is butts.

We like butts. We love butts. Some people-- often boring people-- want to look at butts. We were bred to do this.

More than that, it's what we want to see in movies right next to nice beaches, gothic manors, gothic manners, space, and sweet rides. As much as that is what we want to see and as much as that can go south, Fast Five is rather demur. Like James Bond movies, though, this movie can be shocking just how quaint it can be about the human body.

While it does have the obligitory ass shots and bikini clad babes that come from shooting a movie Rio de Janero it is a movie that is, importantly, shot in Rio de Janero. That's how people dress over there. It's a beach town in a hot and humid location and it's Brazil, I'm pretty sure even the president wears a bikini. There's a certain amount of casual half-nudity that comes with the territory.

So, in a movie in which Riddick and Paul Walker swing a bank vault into roughly a thousand cops and where Americans can storm into a former colony and shoot everyone that can be shot, this movie still has some sense of semblance of decency about showing a woman's breasts. Or, yeah that ass. Or, God help us, front cleavage.

Is it there, yeah? It's kind of weird when you see it, yet it doesn't ever treat any of the female characters as a nice ass except in the case of one very silly plot point. Women in this film are mothers, sisters, wives baby mommas, drag racers, cops, commandos, and, yes, damnit, career women. There is a franchise in which women are having it all and it isn't directed by Tina Faye.

As bad or as good as it is it could have been so much worse and it isn't and when you consider pornographic bilge like Transfomers 3, you should realize that this is a pretty good case that our society might not completely and utterly hate women. It might be that we like them and we want them to hang out with us and help us, and, yeah, it isn't exactly Waitress, but, then again, what is?

It is meathead cinema at its pinnacle and it still doesn't treat women like pieces of meat. Sure, they're still hot and super capable "professionals" with nothing to do in their lives but rob banks, but they aren't these objects of desire or points of leverage for the plot. They're women. They get shit done. In that sense they're just like the men. There's no equivocation, there's no discussion, there's just chicks in cars moving the plot along.

And they make the cars go vroom real good, so what other qualifications do you want?

In 2011 you will believe man can walk. . . real slow while looking into the middle distance.
People in this movie are cogs to movie the plot along to the next bit of fetishism. I was trying to describe this feeling to my friend Kevin and the best parallel I could come up with was a body builder talking about his hobbies. He says he's into French cooking or gardening or going to the movies, but we all know what his real passion is: It's body building. We all know where the heart of Fast Five is and it isn't in what people feel about fatherhood.

Because as much as Transformers is about selling toys to people or Pirates of the Caribbean is about selling illeteracy, this movie is just about cars. These cars do things.They get results. More importantly cars are really kind of rad.

Fast 6 has come and gone and it's basically a preconceived notion that this series will go on, hopefully, forever. I just want to put my foot in the door now with what I think Fast 8 (AKA Hard Eight With Cars This Time) should be--

Looks like we've got to bring in another driver, the best there is. One I've been trying to forget about. . . UNTIL NOW.

Who's that?

A ghost.

A SHELBY VIPER drives TOWARD THE CAMERA and drifts a few inches from the camera. A driver emerges from the driver's side door. He is wearing a helmet. He removes his helmet to reveal:

CGI STEVE MCQUEEN (as played by Army Hammer).

I heard you guys needed a driver.











Come on! You know you want it!
I could apologize forever about this dumb, dumb, DUMB piece of cinema (and I do that a lot), but you know what? I don't care.

For once I'm free of all of the shame and irony and anything else you could make me feel about liking something this colossally stupid. I could talk about how cars are in America's DNA as deep as guns or unsolicited flag waving (I saw several American flags waving during a report of the announcement of the new Pope, so there you go), but in the end the reason I am talking about this movie is simple: I had fun.

You should have fun, too. That's why we watch movies. Maybe that fun is different sometimes and maybe we all have different ideas of fun, but we movies don't move us because we hate them. That's fun sometimes, yeah, I'll admit. That isn't what keeps us coming back. Sometimes it's a great piece of storytelling, something emotionally effecting, or great acting or all three. Sometimes its dumb people driving cars. Sometimes that is all that it has to be.

Fast Five did what it wanted to do. It made me have fun watching cars go over, under, and around things that cars should try their hardest to avoid for insurance reasons. It's why I watched Bullitt, it's one of the primary reasons why I love Ronin, it's why French Connection is burned to brightly in my mind, it's a dozen other films that made me remember them. It's the fact that Fast Five, for all of its many blindingly obvious faults, is a movie that uses machinery in novel ways to make something worth seeing.

You don't need me to tell you that that is a pretty good movie.