Baywatch: Movie Man Jackson

Defend the bay, at all costs. Lifeguard “lieutenant’ Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) is the longtime protector of Emerald Bay, keeping its denizens safe and the bay the place to be, along with Emerald lifeguard veterans Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ (Kelly Rohrbach). He and the others take their jobs seriously, which the community thanks them for.

Buchanan’s team has three openings on it, and they are filled by the sassy Summer (Alexandra Daddario), the dorky yet persistent Ronnie (Jon Bass), and the bad-boy, two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). The latter addition tests Buchanan’s patience. While the initiation of the newbies is occurring, shady activity and dead bodies are proliferating on the bay, and it seems to suggest that new beachfront owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) may be connected. Though this is a job clearly for the authorities, who better to crack the case than the lifeguards of Emerald Bay?

 

There’s value in setting the bar low. Or adapting from something in which the bar happened to be so low. That bar I’m talking about is Baywatch 2017, of course adapted from the 90’s television show. I certainly do not remember anything about the show, or recall watching one episode in full, but the slo-mo beefcakes and buxom beauties is as ‘Merican as apple pie. This iteration of Baywatch provides that, yet unfortunately, little else consistently to be a memorable comedy, even with a low bar.

It wouldn’t be Baywatch without gratuitous slow motion (a spectacular opening scene uses it the best) featuring shots that focus on both male and female anatomy. On that front, director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief, Horrible Bosses), succeeds. There’s ample eye candy for all moviegoers. Seth Gordon is in on the joke…at least for the first 30 or so minutes, focusing on the absurdity of it all. There’s a turning point however, that occurs around this 30-minute mark that makes Baywatch not completely serious, but more serious than one may anticipate.This is the point in which all of the lazy editing, sometimes horrid CGI, and boring action sequences are noticed and the near two-hour runtime felt. At least there’s a nice soundtrack.

So the direction isn’t great, but Gordon isn’t the biggest issue in Baywatch. That would be the writing. Is it as bad as CHiPs? Not a chance. However, the story, though clear with no frills, plays out as an uninteresting murder mystery. “Mystery” is a bit of a misnomer, as all the trailers have outlined each puzzle piece and how they fit. What’s left is some crude R rated humor—most of it unfortunately sinking like an anchor—and Johnson’s character making a lame running joke throughout by not calling Efron’s character by his name, instead referring to him as “Bieber,” “*NSYNC,” or some other similar boy band/group. Gets old fast.

This should be better just by the presence of the two leading men. Everyone knows Dwayne is charismatic (he still is here), and Zac has found his career destiny in comedies playing some variants of hollow, douchey, yet somewhat still layered guys. But, their chemistry and timing isn’t completely tight; then again, they’re not given much to take advantage of. The lines they’re asked to read and the skim characters they’re asked to play simply do not allow for much comedy to be delivered.

Out of the rest of the cast, the most humorous moments are actually delivered by Jon Bass and Kelly Rohrbach. As far as the other women go, Daddario and Hadera fill roles of love interests with little else, and Chopra’s character, despite the movie trying to build her up as an intelligent villainess in an industry full of men, is extremely one-note the moment she appears on screen. It’s a shame, too, for as much diversity as the film carries in its cast, none of it translates to interesting, or at least consistently amusing, characters.

Perhaps old television shows should just be left alone and untouched at sea. This new Baywatch isn’t worth stopping for or staring at.

D+

Photo credits go to movpins.com, fromthemovie.com, and slashfilm.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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The Fate of the Furious: Movie Man Jackson

Racing may have left the franchise, but bald heads never will. With Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) finally remembering everything, she and husband Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) are spending some much needed R&R time in Cuba, thinking about what the future holds for them in making a family of their own. It would appear that the Dom certainly doesn’t miss the bullets like Brian once did.

Unfortunately, the bullets and high-risk scenarios always seem to find him; this time, via an enigmatic woman known as “Cipher” (Charlize Theron). Cipher, having secret information on Toretto that puts who he loves at risk, forces him to carry out her dangerous plans by using his own team/family to capture a world-altering device…only to take it from them and deliver it into her hands.

Being crossed, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are left to pick up the pieces. And that means going after Dom and figuring out why, with an uneasy ally in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) added into the fray.

If Fast Five was Universal doing Marvel’s The Avengers before that movie happened, the latest in the F&F universe, The Fate of the Furious, feels a little like Captain America: Civil War, or The Avengers 3 or whatever. How so? It manages to bring back almost everyone of note while introducing new characters that are sure to play roles in future offerings, and flips the script a little in making a central character a major antagonist. It definitely lacks the emotional aspect of Furious 7, as well as and the large stakes, character moments, and insane thrill ride that was Fast Five. But, “F8,” though skidding more on the road than past predecessors, doesn’t completely wreck itself.

At eight films deep, the Fast and Furious universe has lore. Lots of it, and the eighth installment uses every inch of trunk space it has to accommodate it. In other words, it has continuity…in a way. Thought God’s Eye was just a MacGuffin to never be seen or referred to again? Put to actual good use here! Believed Elena would just slip into the background? Think again. Everyone knows how ridiculous this franchise can be, proudly wearing that ridiculousness as a badge of honor. But credit to where it’s due; writer Chris Morgan continues to draw up new scenarios that give mileage to the universe.

Don’t mistake that praise as complete support for The Fate of the Furious‘ script. It does enough to get by (a poor man’s version of Civil War, even with a bit of The Winter Soldier), with a familiar theme and intriguing reveal. But for some reason, its story holes and matters unexplained actually make one think about them more in a logical way. That’s not supposed to happen with a F&F movie! And as stated before, the continuity generally works, but the end scene (as well as a few others) does betray much of what the prior movie(s) established in the way of character relationships, making it hard to accept that some sins in this world are somehow forgivable.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Friday) makes the third new different director in the last three Fast and Furious movies to helm the film’s physics-defying action. Having some experience in action with The Italian Job, Gray, like Wan, mostly impresses. It’s hard not to be impressed with the massive set pieces, in large part done practically. CGI gets a little iffy at times for such a big budget production. Like Wan, however, Gray comes up short compared to Lin on a hand-to-hand combat level. Not quite shaky cam, but the angles used can sometimes be disorienting. Still, he makes a case to direct the next one if need be.

Perhaps Vin should give directing a shot, with the amount of power he seems to be wielding as of late. Performance-wise, Diesel simultaneously serves up a surprising job in spots, as well as an unintentionally funny one, often in the same scenes. Unfortunately, Paul Walker is missed, not necessarily in the action scenes where he more than held his own, but in the slower scenes. He brought an everyman presence that is lacking here, especially as the lengthy movie grinds to a halt in spots.

The real news coming into F8 was the legit beef between Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with rumors being that Vin wasn’t happy with Dwayne stealing some franchise thunder. After seeing F8, I can see why. Johnson is the clear star of this series now, bringing his trademark energy, dead-eye one-liners, and larger-than-life persona to the Hobbs character. Jason Statham eclipses Vin as well, his dry and rugged Deckard meshing well with Hobbs and generating interest in a future teamup. Out of the newcomers, Charlize Theron is the most menacing villain the franchise has ever had, if only her Cipher wasn’t as vague in her motivations. Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren add name value, little else, but they’re fun enough. Returnees Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle Rodriguez, and Kurt Russell get little spots to shine, though ultimately take backseats to Johnson, Diesel, Statham, and Theron.

If the Furious series is a mile represented by 10 movies at 1/10th of a mile each, it’s not inconceivable to think it hit top speed a few movies ago, and is decelerating as it approaches the purported finish line. One thing’s for certain, though. There’s no stopping before that line comes, and every drop of gas will be used before it comes.

C+

Photo credits go to irishexaminer.com, birthmoviesdeath.com, and moviepilot.com.

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Central Intelligence: Movie Man Jackson

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So this is what Agent Hobbs does when he’s not working with Dom, Brian, and the crew! 20 years ago, Calvin “The Golden Jet” Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the most popular guy in high school. Valedictorian, letterman, ladies man, and overall nice guy. On the other end of the spectrum lay Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson), overweight and constantly bullied by everyone expect for Joyner.

In present day, Calvin has got a job, but not the job. He has the school sweetheart, but things are starting to get a little rough. Calvin can’t help but feel like an underachiever. On the other end, Robbie is Weirdicht no more, now Bob Stone and completely transformed into a hulking physique. Over beers, the two catch up and things seem swell, until the CIA makes their presence known. Bob’s in the agency, and has a price on his head, and as long as Calvin is associated with him, that price is on is head as well.

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Death, taxes…and Kevin Hart? Or rather, Kevin Hart in a buddy cop comedy, or just a buddy comedy. It has become an automatic reality over the last couple of years. Central Intelligence finds Hart not paired with Farrell, Gad, or Cube, but one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, giving the movie the fitting tagline of “Saving the world takes a little Hart and a Big Johnson.”

Central Intelligence, written mainly by The Mindy Project writers David Stassen and Ike Barinholtz, does little different from other buddy cop movies. Its plot can essentially be boiled down to the CIA is shady and there’s some information that can supposedly doom the free world if it gets into the wrong hands. A few twists are had here and there, but the plot isn’t driving this movie. Nor is the action, which, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers, Dodgeball) is fine, but looks a little cheap.

If anything, this is more of a character-driven comedy. No, these aren’t characters one is likely to remember, but in the course of the film, they have emotional centers. Whether it is Bob Stone still dealing with confidence issues after an eternity of being bullied, or Joyner trying to figure out what to do with his life after peaking in high school, you do want to see these guys overcome their obstacles.

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Still, as semi-heartwarming as that message and characters are, this is a comedy. And, that is a little bit more of a mixed bag on that front. Kevin Hart is still Kevin Hart, meaning that, although turned down a few notches (from a 10 to say, a 6.5) in this particular movie, still has the relatively same shtick used when he’s going for big laughs. It should please Hart loyalists and do nothing to sway Hart haters. He does play more of the straight man to Dwayne, though, who is the man child who hasn’t quite grown up.

Some jokes land and land big, others fail to register a chuckle, and the constant movie references are rarely funny here. But, Johnson and Hart do have a very real chemistry, enough so that other collaborations would be met with acceptance, as long as they aren’t sequels to Central Intelligence. Amy Ryan plays in a role that really could have been done by any actress. There are some unforeseen cameos that are worth some laughs and are better left unspoiled.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Wha-Whaat! Central Intelligence is firmly mediocre all things considered, but thanks to an entertaining tandem of Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson, it is slightly better than average.

C+

Photo credits go to brobible.com, screenrant.com, and comingsoon.net.

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San Andreas: Movie Man Jackson

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“Now we rebuild.”

I’m not going going, back back, to Cali Cali after seeing San Andreas. In the Golden State, earthquakes are always a possibility, yet thankfully almost all aren’t Earth shattering. Yet according to professor and scientific seismologist Dr. Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), it is not if, but rather when, the fault spanning about 810 miles will release all of its pent up tension.

After a precursor in Nevada, that moment unfortunately appears to be here. Rescue chopper pilot Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is one of the aids called into assistance, and he is well versed in high pressure missions. But this is a different animal. Not only does he have to deal with Mother Nature, but he has to deal with an impending divorce of his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino), and separation from his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), both of whom are in the eye of not just a singular earthquake, but multiple ones that hit harder than the last.

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A category, already in and of itself a and division of a group of things/people) that share similar concepts, traits, etc., can often always be broken down into smaller subcategories. Take, for example, the blockbuster film. Many blockbusters, occasionally a negatively-charged word in some circles, are often looped together under the same umbrella, and yet so many are different from one another. The “smart” blockbuster such as Inception and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as well as the “dumb” blockbuster like Furious 7 or Transformers. There is nothing wrong about either subcategory, to which probably more categories can be begot from them, but San Andreas probably falls in the latter one, and it seems to know that. And it is probably all the better for it.

There is no real cause to explain the events in the movie (aside from the professor saying that the region is overdue for one), or social commentary that director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) injects into it. This is a simple disaster movie through and through. Never more than five minutes go by once the earthquakes go down in which one doesn’t see multiple buildings collapse, land masses split open, or some type of explosion. It is all composed in sharp CGI detail, which is good-looking but not exactly anything that hasn’t been seen before. The action shots where people are frantically trying to get away from disaster are actually better than the wider shots.

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Unsurprisingly though, what isn’t disaster fare is comprised of family drama. For a disaster movie, San Andreas is very much tunnel-vision-centric on its star characters playing the father, mother, and daughter. Credit goes to Johnson, Gugino, and Dadarrio for making the familiar notes tolerable, but that doesn’t make them feel any fresher. It is necessary I suppose to have the family bond here as it is something most could easily relate to in times like the film portrays, but this singular view sort of renders the beginning useless, especially as Peyton seem to paint Johnson and his rescue crew as…well, a crew that has been through a lot. After the 20 minute mark or so, we never see his members again, just Chief Gaines.

Despite iffy writing, not much of the blame, if any, can be placed on those that appear in the feature. Dwayne Johnson may not be playing a complex character, but for what he is asked to do he does well, showing the requisite emotion that is needed in certain places. He is likable, magnetic, and a man that endears himself to others, and carries the movie well on his broad shoulders. Doesn’t hurt to know how to drop a chessy and over-dramatic liner seconds after dramatic music either.

Carla Gugino is believable and functional as his wife, and they have the fractured relationship that is crystal clear on how it will end up. In a surprise to yours truly, Alexandra Daddario is more than the damsel daughter in distress, and gets to show off some real resolve and resourcefulness in the midst of disaster. Her character is no Imperator Furiosa or Rita Vrataski, but it is a nice turn to show that she isn’t completely a deer in headlights waiting to be rescued.

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As boring as the “it’s what you would expect line” is, it applies to San Andreas. It is entertaining, not deep, and a film that would feel weird if it weren’t released in the summer. Not a 10 on the ol’ blockbuster Richter scale, but more like a 6 or 7 in magnitude.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to Youtube.com, nypost.com, theweek.com, ram-ah.com, and toughless.com.

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Furious 7: Movie Man Jackson

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“They say open road helps you think about where you’ve been. Where you’re going.”

Going into Furious 7, it would be wise to heed the advice once said by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to his special forces team in Fast Five: Make sure you’ve got your funderwear on. London’s successful mission in bringing down Owen Shaw has brought Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) back home to Los Angeles with clean slates. The narrow escape of the past “adventure” provides realization to all involved: It is time to leave these lives behind…

but Deckard Shaw, (Jason Statham) brother of Owen, will not allow that. Driven by vengeance, Deckard will not stop until every one of Toretto’s crew is lying six feet under. There is no choice but to bring the gang back. Getting to Deckard isn’t a easy task, and to do so the gang is going to have to play along with a mysterious government official known as “Mr. Nobody” Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) to retrieve a powerful program that is deadly in the wrong hands. Dom, Brian, and company are going to need every bit of their family bond to survive this one.

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November 30th, 2013. That is the day that Furious 7 became more than just the seventh installment in one of cinema’s highest-grossing franchises. On that day, Paul Walker sadly passed away, and F7 became one of the most talked about, analyzed, and scrutinized movies leading up to April 3, 2015. What would the studio do? What should they do? Should Walker be replaced? Should production even continue? It is almost impossible not to think about the circumstances involving this movie, and the movie doesn’t necessarily make the viewer forget them either for that matter, but Furious 7 should be most of what fans desire: Unfathomable action, quality time spent with its universe’s characters, and a tasteful and deftly executed sendoff for Paul.

Since the series-altering shift in Fast Five, what exists in the scripts of these films serve as just enough glue to connect wildly entertaining sequences to a plot. F7 presents a compelling setup with the common but tried and true revenge angle, and that never truly leaves the duration of the film.

But, it does take a backseat to the A plot. Without spoiling too much, there is a lot of globe-hopping and more opposition than ever before, but with that, some rough edges are found. Perhaps they are present because of the reported rewrites that came about because of the tragedy, which no one could have planned for. There’s a feeling that may be had that everyone did the best they could with the circumstances given, plot included. It isn’t a shoddy one, per se, but more disparate than I would have liked.

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What does hold the “over here, over there” plot together however is the theme of family, both in the world these characters live in, and in the real one. Even through the most ridiculous stunts, family links exist, and have only become stronger with each installment. Never once is there doubt that these characters wouldn’t put their lives on the line for each other (getting to seven movies will do that), and never once is there doubt that Vin, Michelle, Paul, Tyrese, Jordana, Dwayne, and Ludacris aren’t legitimately enjoying each other’s company. This gives some of the dialogue (not the corny but highly entertaining one-liners) about sticking together and realizing what is important more emotional heft, amplified by a score composed by longtime F&F music contributor Brian Tyler. It is fourth-wall breaking in a sense, but not bludgeoning to the point where it becomes the sole mission of the movie.

Walker’s untimely demise usually found its way in any talks about Furious 7, but what went under the radar despite being just as important is the new face driving behind the directorial seat. Justin Lin’s four movie run ended with F&F6, and in steps perhaps the most popular producer and director there is today in horror: James Wan. The result is pretty good for a guy who’s only real exposure to action was Death Sentence, and that is nowhere near the action levels that F7 possesses.

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Wan does a lot of solid things, one of them being (with the technical crew) the difficult task of having to complete Paul’s scenes with CGI and voice-over. To be honest, yours truly hardly noticed where the real Brian and the produced Brian were. Sure, an educated guess can be made where Wan and company had to work a little harder. Some scenes choose to linger entirely on other characters while Walker is speaking or use really quick cuts as to not linger on Walker’s visage, but as a whole, especially in the action, a magnificent job is done integrating what could be a hindrance seamlessly.

Wan excels at showcasing the all-out, vehicular mayhem and wide-scale insanity that Lin perfected with each subsequent movie, and it is even possible that he may have Lin beat in this arena. But from a pure hand-to-hand comparison, he lacks the expertise that Lin brought to the table. There’s a lot of rapid, somewhat odd camera angles with some of the clashes, which doesn’t totally dull the fistfights, but it removes some of the visceral impact they could have. Most directors don’t immediately come equipped to capture action right away, especially in a blockbuster. He’ll get better, because he isn’t bad to start with.

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Enough has been said about the returning characters. Not much is different with them, which can be good or bad depending on your point of view, although there is a well-crafted arc with O’Connor that is developed from the beginning and earned. It can be wondered if the rewrites took screentime away from Dwayne Johnson, but being the persona he is, his presence is still felt. As for the notable newbies, Statham may be the best definitive villain in the entire franchise, but he really only appears when convenient. Djimon Hounsou is a standard bad guy in what may have been the role Denzel was offered. Wherever the franchise goes next, Kurt Russell looks to be a substantial cog. His character is an interesting addition.

Furious 7 marks the end The Fast and the Furious franchise. Not literally speaking of course, with the money to be made with this one, but figuratively and spiritually. There’s a finality that exists amid the spectacular crashes, humorous one-liners, and death-defying stunts. Furious 7 goes out the only way it knows how to: By riding out together.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, businessinsider.com, mashable.com, and usmagazine.com.

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Fast & Furious 6: Movie Man Jackson

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“You don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

All roads lead to this, just with more road after “this.” Fast & Furious 6 finds the members of the Dominic Toretto/Brian O’Conner super crew (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker), living very comfortably after pulling off the job of the century in Rio de Janeiro. For some, like Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Giselle (Gal Gadot), comfortable is living lavishly and traveling county to county. For others like Dom and Brian, comfortable is just living with loved ones. Regardless of their definition, they are all free.

And yet there is something missing because living free doesn’t mean fulfilling if you can’t return home. While their incomplete lives are being lived, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is after an elite street gang headed by dangerous mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). As this pursuit has trekked across the globe, Hobbs knows there’s only one way to catch wolves: With wolves. This means asking the crew to reassemble again, and despite Dom’s resistance, Hobbs shows evidence of Dom’s past lover Letty alive with the rival gang. The promise of full pardons and potential of reuniting with Letty is enough to hop back in the driver’s seat one more time.

Film Title: Fast & Furious 6

Once again, the laws of physics have no place in the F&F universe. Fast & Furious 6 follows very much in the trailblazing, franchise-rebranding path of Fast Five, focusing on full-scale car chases, open-environments shootouts, and white-knuckle faceoffs. Is it dumb entertainment? Sure. Is it highly entertaining? Without a doubt.

Director Justin Lin goes bigger and more outlandish with about everything in F&F6 from an action perspective, which is impressive because F5 was nothing to scoff at either. Want to see a tank take out a complete highway? Maybe a wild finale on a plane featuring the longest runway known to man? Or perhaps a simple, good ol’ catfight or two? All of that is here, some of it more ridiculous than others, but the implausibility hardly matters because it looks so awesome and full of unbridled mayhem, with only the rare occasion where CGI sticks out too much.

Though familiarity with the franchise isn’t needed to enjoy the pedal-to-the metal set pieces, a level of it makes for more connection with the story and namely the characters who make up F&F. The actual story is nothing more than a gang trying to stop another gang from getting/creating some high-tech military piece that can shut down an entire region (or something), but the real story that has been fueling the series for sometime now is the bond between family and friends. It is the type of thing that may be overly sentimental and not mean much to those who haven’t spent time with thees movies, but for those that have a level of investment exists, and it gives a layer of emotion and feeling as crazy as that may sound.

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Lasting over 10 years has meant a lot in the way of chemistry and banter. When Fast & Furious 6 isn’t busy rewriting Newton’s laws or trying to give some middling efforts to the plot, it is more than happy with letting its characters talk and crack jokes, which are legitimately comical, especially anything having to do with Tyrese as Roman Pearce. Whether he is delivering lines or taking them from other crew members like Tej, Han, Giselle, or Hobbs. In a lot of ways, the movie does comedy better than actual comedies.

Back to Hobbs for a second. While he may not be the “antagonist” he was in the latter movie throwing down against Toretto and O’Conner, his presence and bold, no nonsense persona is on display throughout, with a little bit of humor thrown in just like his wrestling days as The Rock. As important as he is (and he is very), Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are still the guys driving this vehicle, and what Mia (Jordana Brewster) states about Dom and Brian being stronger together than apart applies to the actors themselves.Call it a bromance if needed, but the two are just akin to peanut butter and jelly in the way they mesh.

Coming back into the fray is Michelle Rodriguez, still robotic in delivery but also at the forefront of many of the film’s best fight scenes. It is nice to see her return here. Lastly, Luke Evans serves as the heroes’ foil, and he isn’t a dud, but his character and crew never seem to serve as a true formidable force to the honorable gang. Ultimately, Evans’ greatest contribution may be serving as a launching pad to potentially the series’ greatest villain as seen in the post credits.

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The roads aren’t the only terrain occupied. It isn’t the reinvention like Fast Five was, but Fast & Furious 6 continues on what was built there with more characters, more humor, and more explosive action. The engine’s still revving.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to planetofmovies.com, aceshowbiz.com, & cinema.theiapolis.com.

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Fast Five: Movie Man Jackson

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“And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”

When street racing doesn’t pay the bills anymore, it is time to find another lane that will. Fast Five begins right where Fast & Furious left off, when Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) lead an attack on a bus transporting friend and brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to Lompac federal prison. The successful breakout and those who staged it make national headlines.

The three are forced to flee out of the states and to Rio de Janeiro, where they run into corrupt businessman Herman Reyes, who isn’t the guy to cross. But, their options are limited, pushing Dom and Brian to an idea: To get their freedom, they must steal from the man who runs Rio. It isn’t going to be easy, and it will require the help of past friends Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and others, but if successful the crew will net $100 million. Dealing with Reyes and his mercenaries is serious business as is, but throw in relentless special forces agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the job is, in Roman’s words: “Mission infreaking sanity.”

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It isn’t everyday that a franchise gets to five movies. Even rarer is a franchise reinventing itself in a fifth movie. Fast & Furious 2009 in retrospect got the ball rolling with the evolution to the series, but Fast Five takes the ball and runs with it, blazing a new, wildly fun path for the series. Though it is a new path aimed to reach out to a wider population and a fairly doable jumping point for newbies, it is hard to see many people despising 1-4 and immensely enjoying this, but is is certainly possible.

The shift to a broad action flick with cars in the rear-view as opposed to cars being at the forefront is a sound, efficient change, but there are one or two moments where fans of the earlier films may miss the traditional race scenes. One moment in particular has a perfect build towards one that occurs, but all that is seen is the aftermath of it. If the story shift wasn’t believed before, it is here where F5 cements it.

However, it is only a small downer though, because the street racing story focus had a limited ceiling, especially in 2011 (or now) compared to the start of the franchise in 2001 when street racing was still very popular. Those earlier movies may still have been filled with mayhem, but they always felt restrained, restricted to only one gear. Not so here. Director Justin Lin fully embraces the departure from the norm, removing the shackles from the car culture focus and in the process creating over-the-top and physics-defying action set-pieces. They are also loaded with fun and extremely hard not to enjoy, shot with great precision and clarity, and Rio makes for a new, unfamiliar playground to feature the craziness. Look past the impossibilities, and it is hard to find flaws from an action perspective in Fast Five.

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At least script-wise, F5 shares more in common with the Ocean’s movies than it does with its franchise brethren. With that similarity, there is a feeling of “been here, done that,” but for every film save for possibly the first, the story found here is all and all pretty good, even if some aspects of it aren’t bought into easily (for fugitives, these guys sure do get a lot of time and resources to hone their plan). The more “emotional” sections may do nothing for people unfamiliar or long uninterested to the F&F universe, but for those who have had enjoyment with it more times than not, these occurrences do work, if only for the simple fact that five movies does lend a level of connection to these characters.

In addition, just seeing many of the key players from previous entries come together to assemble and banter is like a poor movie’s The Avengers. These interactions are cool and amusing, but they can feel stretched out in spots, which is a reflection of the movie’s runtime. 130 minutes could and probably should be no more than 110.

For all of the things F5 does better than the rest, for yours truly there is one thing that it finally gets right: the villain(s), or a more fitting description, the opposition. And, it isn’t as obvious as believed. There is a traditional villain, and he isn’t really all that great, but contrasted with others from earlier films, he does grab attention. But he pales in comparison to the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as dogged Luke Hobbs. Johnson steals scenes and ups the ante anytime he appears, and gives Dom, Brian and the crew a formidable and intimidating foe for the first time. To the main characters he may be the bad guy, but Hobbs fighting on the right side of the law actually makes the crew, namely Dom & Brian, villains and opposition in their own right. This dynamic, not mind-blowing in the least, does give a extra layer of intrigue to the events.

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Enough has been said about Dwayne serving as a newfound rock to this series, but the old hands are still as consistent and effective as before. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel will forever be Brian and Dom, their characters being a great combination of chemistry and healthy rivalry mixed with respect. The supporting characters of Roman Pierce, Tej, Han, Gisele, and others fit nicely throughout, whereas before many were stretched in the movies they appeared in. Jordana Brewster’s role is scaled back but still pretty important. No one is going to blow viewers away with their performances, but for what they are all asked to do little complaints can be had.

At this point, Fast Five will likely not be the epiphany to change those who cared little or nothing at all for the franchise. For those that have been having fun riding with Dom and Brian for a while now, this still has trademark NOS running through its vehicle, it is just not the singular thing anymore.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to fanpop.com, pixarplanet.com, and fastfive.co.uk

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