The cars -- the Dodge Chargers, the 'Vettes, the Detomaso Panteras -- are introduced like starlets in "Fast Five," the fourth sequel to the high-energy, high-earning "The Fast and the Furious," and that's only right: They're better actors than most of the humans in what has apparently become a heist-movie series rather than the street-racing franchise that previously rolled off the Universal Picture assembly line. Auto freaks will be in heaven: The racing/chase scenes will increase your pulse rate; director Justin Lin (who has now directed three of the five "FF" movies) stages several speed-centric sequences that justify the film's additional release in IMAX theaters (250 or so). The plot is assembly line stuff and the acting is, more or less, akin to that special undercoating you didn't want, or the deluxe floor mats you didn't need.

If you're an actor who hasn't been killed off in a previous "Fast and Furious" chapter, you're probably back for this one: Ex-cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and pregnant girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) are on the lam for having set Mia's brother, Dominic (Vin Diesel) free from the law. When the three of them are framed for the murders of drug agents during the theft of several very impressive automobiles from a moving train (one of the film's better bits) they decide to rip off the Rio de Janeiro drug lord (Joachim de Almeida) who's really guilty, and assemble a crack team (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot) to help them do it. Meanwhile, a Buick-sized fed named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on their rear bumper, and Hobbs always gets his man. Or woman. Or car. Or bank vault being towed through Rio by Dominic and Brian, crushing everything in its path. Johnson and Ludacris are very funny; Brewster looks like she needs a meal and Diesel seems to be prepping for the next Hulk movie. But the cars are very cool.

 

Back story: Fast and furious, but not in 3-D

With the opening Friday of "Fast Five," Universal is taking all the requisite steps to turn the latest entry in its "Fast and Furious" franchise into a summer event film. It has a bigger budget, a foreign setting, and even a new genre -- transformed from an underground racing movie into a heist flick.

But there's one key element "Fast Five" is missing: 3-D. That wasn't always the plan. As of last year Universal executives were seriously considering making the rampage 3-D. Imagine cars zooming by each other in front of a movie screen and Dwayne Johnson throwing Vin Diesel through a wall right at your face.

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Universal didn't shoot the film in 3-D, but was considering a postproduction conversion. But before committing the $10 million-plus such a move typically costs, the studio decided to test a scene from 2009's "Fast & Furious," the previous entry in the series. The conclusion, in Internet parlance, was a fail.

"The test was not great. It was discombobulating and we discovered that the things that we find exciting about 3-D just didn't apply to a 'Fast' film," said Universal co-chairwoman Donna Langley. "The way we shot the movie . . . the way we cut it does not lend itself to 3-D."

-- Los Angeles Times