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FAST FIVE

**1/2

Stating that Fast Five is the best of the Fast and the Furious series is perhaps like claiming that the Big Mac is the best hamburger served at McDonald's: It's not so much a declaration of excellence as an example of damning with faint praise. Still, fans of this high-octane franchise will find plenty to enjoy, newbies should be able to hop aboard the ride without getting left behind (any references to past pictures tend to be negligible or easy to absorb), and dates dragged against their will can at least enjoy the Cowboys and Aliens trailer that precedes the picture.

OK, so the viewing experience admittedly offers more than just a sneak peek at an anticipated sci-fi summer blockbuster. Even with a generous 130-minute running time, the film never brakes for boredom. There's also a notable attempt on the parts of director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan to give everyone a moment to shine in the spotlight. And considering this entry brings back various characters from all four previous installments, that's a lot of illumination taking place.

Front and center, of course, is the triumvirate of bad-ass Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), bad-ass wannabe Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and tough yet tender Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster). Return offenders include Tyrese Gibson (who still can't act a lick, bless him) and the always engaging Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as two of the numerous car-crazy accomplices. New to the cast is Dwayne Johnson as a federal agent in hot pursuit of our anti-heroes.

As for the plot, it concerns the efforts of -- oh, who am I kidding? All that's important is that it involves lots of car chases, mucho macho posturing, a nonstop barrage of wisecracks (some amusing, some anything but), and the continued sight of Brian O'Conner trying to look like a bad ass (or did I already mention that?). Oh, and it all takes place in Rio de Janeiro. Look fast and you can even spot a cameo appearance by Blu, the animated star of the current hit Rio. OK, not really, but wouldn't Rio and Fast Five make for a more intriguing cross-promotion than Rio and Angry Birds?

 

 

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