Aye caramba! This movie is a gay bar on wheels. (And I mean that as a compliment). Not since the days of Rock Hudson has a mainstream movie so obviously starred a gay lead. I know Vin Diesel isn’t out of the closet yet, but on the evidence of Fast Five, he’s banging at the door. The movie is a testosterone-fuelled rebuke to the narrow-mindedness of Proposition 8, an adrenalized yawp in favour of gay rights. In the “gay bar” analogy, Paul Walker plays the straight but clueless bartender; The Rock plays a beefcake, and the women are all played by boys. Mainstream movie decorum foists a girlfriend on Vin, but it’s clear from the look in his eye: he wants The Rock. Even the cars seem eager for them to kiss.
In Rio de Janeiro, the disapproving statue of Christ the Redeemer watches over a bank heist. Several Americans have gathered in the city to re-enact Ocean’s Eleven, with muscle cars. Their leader, unlike the unflappable Danny Ocean, is a gravel-voiced thug with a gold cross around his neck. He is played by Vin Diesel. Many movies ago, Vin was the bad guy in this series. But thanks to a series of unlikely plot twists, the man who once hunted him is now his partner (in crime, not sex) and, for various reasons, they plan to rob the richest criminal in Rio. The main impediment to this plan is an FBI agent (played by The Rock) who looks like a sledgehammer. Before you can say “brmm brmm”, they’re wrapped up in a fight.
First, a comment on The Rock’s physique in this movie: he’s dinosaur-size. Charles Atlas would look malnourished next to this guy. He looks like an upturned ziggurat of muscles, on top of which some Aztec dude has placed a head. It’s like he saw Vin Diesel was big, so he decided to eat Vin’s weights. Vin’s first showdown with The Rock is like watching a shift in tectonic plates. It is also clear that they are totally gaybones for each other. Fast Five blows Top Gun out of the water in the homo-erotic stakes. As Vin goes all coy and come-get-me in front a crowd of bad boys, The Rock takes the bait. It’s like a David LaChapelle video, with the music turned off. They stare at each other for so long; you’d be relieved if they kissed. But no. Big tease Vin has a date with some dirty cops. The Rock has to hang out with his entourage. Paul Walker has to pretend like he’s relevant to the plot.
This is one of those “team” movies where there are literally so many characters that you suspect the lead actors only worked for a couple of days. The Fast and the Furious franchise is like a circus in this way: full of acts who are dear to the show, but unloved by the crowds: Paul Walker, for instance, who looks like Paul Newman if you replaced sex appeal with salad dressing; or Jordana Brewster, who looks like Jennifer Connelly after a brutal diet. These people could be replaced by crash test dummies behind the wheel and it would scarcely make a difference. They’re just there, like the “best friend” in a chick flick, to be less impressive than the leads. It wouldn’t matter, but the movie feels bloated from squeezing them in.
Vin Diesel doesn’t need co-stars. He sounds like Harvey Fierstein. He looks like he works in construction. His name is Vin Diesel, for crying out loud! Plus, he’s got pectoral muscles that make Pamela Anderson’s chest look flat. He’s the kind of strapping, lascivious hunk who’d make Gianni Versace rise from the grave. His chemistry with The Rock positively fizzes in Fast Five. It’s like watching Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn beat each other up. Vin radiates machismo like a plutonium gear stick. He seems to be feared and respected by Brazilians for his earth-quaking voice. Even big scary cops “switch sides” to “be on his team”. The idea that he might not be gay just makes this movie sound confusing.
The Fast and the Furious is a strange franchise. It started with a bad movie; lost both male leads by the third instalment, then suddenly roared back to life with Part Four. This latest entry sticks with the formula of fast cars, short skirts, and bloodless violence. And since you can’t tell the difference between Paul Walker “acting” and Paul Walker “phoning it in”, the quality of the acting remains unchanged. People come for the cars. They do seem fast, if you’re into that sort of thing. But this is hardly Bullitt with Steve McQueen. Instead, you’re watching a bunch of He-Men cruise the streets of Rio, looking for action. It wants to be a macho adventure, but just like Top Gun, twenty years ago, there are other ways to enjoy Fast Five.