I don’t want to sound like a cinematic elitist. I’m not. I love movies of all shapes and sizes. Give me a good RomCom. I’m in for a thinker. I’ll enjoy some scares. And, I was sitting front and center when Bruce Campbell came to the Landmark Harbor East to screen My Name Is Bruce. Still, the Fast & Furious movies have always seemed like a bit of a joke.

I’ve seen the first one and Tokyo Drift. I didn’t clamor to see the others because they both had the look and feel of a two-hour music video. Not to say I actively avoided them, but I didn’t feel the need to chase them down, either.

This time around they threw something in that got my attention: The Rock. You had me at Dwayne Johnson. Remember a couple seconds ago when I said I’m not a cinematic elitist? Well, exhibit A is my love of The Rock. He’s in it? Sign me up. The Rundown, Walking Tall, Southland Tales, The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy… I don’t care. I will tie on a bib and eat it up. He is just a ton of fun to watch, whether it’s smash-mouth action or the lighthearted kiddie fair.

Shrewd move Fast Five. You really wanted me to see this thing.

I walked into the theater with a pocketful of vague recollections. Paul Walker was an undercover cop after some crooks. He suspected Vin Diesel, but he turned out to be not as bad as he seemed. More of a Robin Hood type. I think? Jordana Brewster was really hot. I know. And street racing.

As luck would have it, you didn’t need a whole lot of back story to understand the movie. Sure, just like any comic book movie, they offered Easter Eggs for the true fans. Certain characters and references that appeared brought about responses from some of the audience that were similar to when I spotted Captain America’s shield on Tony Stark’s computer in the first Iron Man.”OOOOOoooo. OOO. OOOOO! THAT’S CAP’S SHIELD!”

Accessible to uninitiated, Fast Five turns out to be an above average, action/heist movie.

Again, fuzzy on the details that got us to the begining, the movie starts with Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) breaking Dom (Vin Diesel) out of prison. On the lamb, they find their way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In need of some quick money, they fall in with old buddy, Vince (Matt Schulze), who has a caper that would net them the needed cash. Just a little car heist. Stealing a few cars. Off a train. Under the noses of some DEA agents. No big thing. Oh, and the cars were seized from Rio’s number one crime boss, Hernan Reyes (Joaquin de Alameida AKA “I’m looking for a man who calls himself Bucho.”)

Turns out, Reyes actually hired the crew to steal the cars back and when his guys turn to take out Brian and Dom, killing a few DEA agents in the process, some fur obviously gets ruffled. The two manage to escape the train in spectacular fashion. Something with a car and a bridge and a cliff. You can do the math.

Wow. This set up is taking forever. OK. Basically, Reyes is hunting them down. Mia is preggers (WHAT!?) and Dom, being the family guy, realizes that his sis’ and brother in law (did they ever get married?) need a little nest egg for his would be niece or nephew.

And who better to than to provide that nest egg than Reyes, Dom having discovered the locations of all his laundered money on a chip hidden within the stereo of a car from the train. Rally the troops!

Familiar faces from the previous movies start arriving: Roman (Tyrese), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sun Kang) and a few others. It’s a Fast & Furious Dream Team.

MEANWHILE! Brian and Dom are framed up for the deaths of the DEA agents, calling out DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Can you smmmeelllll what THE ROCK is cookin’?) and his elite team to hunt them down and bring them in.

It’s a back and forth road race between Hobbs and Reyes. Can they get to Dom, Ryan and crew before they can get to the money and skeedaddle.

BOOM! FAST FIVE!

Vin Diesel, you are a terrible actor. Really. I seem to recall you being OK: Pitch Black, XXX. But, you’ve only gotten worse over the years. The upside is that you didn’t have to be a good actor to pull this off. You have the tags and title to the franchise and even though there shouldn’t be a world in which you one-up The Rock, I didn’t walk out in protest when you did. The movie wisely never settled on you for too long and when you had to pull something off, you had the help you needed to sell it (next two ‘graphs). Thank your fellow actors for propping you up and buttressing your “performance.”

Tyrese and Ludacris win the “Wow, I never thought I would like Tyrese and Ludacris in a movie so much” award. They were ridiculous and funny. Tyrese’s motormouth, never-shut-up banter, playing off Luda’s straight man offered a nice aftertaste to otherwise bland meal of dialogue, acting and a strained, bending and almost breaking caper narrative.

But who needs those things when you have The Rock? Dwayne is jacked. Mean. And looking to remind people that he can be as big and bad of an action star as anyone out there. Guilty pleasure? Maybe. I’m OK with that. I will take ownership of that. He’s smart. Funny. Intense. And, he carries it all with a physicality that doesn’t let a second of doubt creep in. That car just exploded two inches in front of him. Of course he’s fine. Just got the wind knocked out of him.

The Rock aside, the movie rarely lets up on the gas (see what I did there?) It may slow in spots and sputter, throw in an absurd pregnancy and the ill-advised opportunity for Vin to emote, but that’s really just to give your eyeballs and ears a rest before the next explosion.

Fast Five is fun. It’s stupid fun and god help me, I liked it. There’s a time and place for that. Things blow up. Cars go fast. And doing what few deep-into-the-franchise movies can do, it served the franchise. It actually gave greater value to what came before. I walked out thinking, “Man, I have to check out those other movies.”

I don’t want to say this movie is kicking off Summer 2011. That’s Thor. Vin or even The Rock can’t usurp the God of Thunder. Still, it’s a good test drive for what looks to be a great Summer season in the movie theater.

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