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Fast Five: Score One for the Stunt Drivers

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There's a couple of ways to approach Fast Five (out this week in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital combo pack).

You could get caught up in details like plot and character development, but that would be a total waste of time. Fast Five is pretty much a rewrite of the Oceans 11 remake, except it replaces the casino vault robbery in Las Vegas with a bank vault robbery/car chase in Rio de Janeiro. The heist crew is populated by borderline cameo appearances by characters from the previous four Fast films, even including the one they made without either Paul Walker or Vin Diesel. There's a minimum of dialog onscreen, which surely made it easier to dub into whatever language they needed for foreign release markets.

And, yeah, Vin and Paul can't act, Dwayne Johnson shows up just to cash a big paycheck and raise his international profile and everyone else is mugging like crazy, trying to get themselves noticed on a crowded field in the biggest movie anyone's been in since their last Furious appearance. But, face it, anyone who wants depth and character development in their action pictures is going to hold out for Drive. Except, despite the fact that it's probably the best movie of the year, no one went to see that.

This is the fact: Fast Five is pretty close to a masterpiece of stunt driving and practical special effects and the Blu-ray release does a great job of making the point.

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The original The Fast and the Furious played like a throwback to '70s low-budget car-crash extravaganzas like the original Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) and Eat My Dust (1976) and was a surprise hit when it came out back in 2001. The third film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift faked Japanese locations in Southern California, featured none of the stars from the original and still

Fast Five opens with a high-speed train robbery that involves blowtorching a hole into a train car, yanking sports cars onto a moving truck and sending them down the tow ramp while everything's still moving. That scene and the vault chase at the end are fantastic and the Blu-ray's documentary features explain exactly how they pulled off both sequences with a minimum of CGI. When compared to all the computer graphics-heavy superhero movies like Thor and Green Lantern or even something truly impressive like Inception, the crashes and explosions in Fast Five benefit from your realization that all those dozens of destroyed cars are actual destroyed cars and not a bunch of bits added in post.

The pack comes with a DVD that doesn't look as good as the Blu-ray and a digital download that looks worse than the DVD. If you're looking for a movie to convince your significant other that you need to upgrade your DVD collection to Blu-ray after you got a tricked-out home theater, Fast Five would be a good choice.

Universal is also hyping a "Second Screen" experience via the pocket BLU app for your iOS, Android, PC or Mac. There's definitely some thought and effort behind the presentation, but most of what's on the second screen is also available on the Blu-ray proper and the controller part of the app was confusing to install and use for everyone but the most dedicated and savvy user. One great bonus to the new app is that it lets you download the digital version of the movie direct to your iOS device instead of having to use iTunes and then download it to your computer.

So Fast Five: score one for the stunt drivers. It's not as good as the first or the third movies but it's way more spectacular and it's hard to imagine how they'll top themselves in the inevitable sixth edition whenever they get around to making that.

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