Oh boy, do I love me some Vin Diesel. Fast Five is one of the greatest films of the year, and it’s all because of that delightful man’s bass-filled voice and double chin. (Well, that and a badass climactic heist scene.) This is a man who is such a shitty actor now that he can’t even really enunciate; he just sort of vocally rumbles his way through his scenes. When you hear him talking about his father’s backyard neighbourhood barbecues, you can’t help but cry, mostly because you’re laughing so hard that you can’t breathe.
And his muscles! Oh his muscles! Vin doesn’t give a shit anymore, and almost any wide shot of him in Fast Five is proof of this. He has massive arms, yeah, but his gut is kind of staggering. It’s almost like he got lazy and decided the only workouts he wanted to do any more were bicep curls and eating pizza. Diesel is basically like Mac from It’s Always Sunny; he’s probably just obsessed with mass and throws any core strength ideas to the wind.
Now I’m not here to pretend that Vin Diesel is actually a good actor, but I’m also not going to pretend that he was never promising. Back when he still tried to speak English in his roles, he played a small role in Saving Private Ryan, as well as bigger roles in a string of action movies like Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious, and XXX. While these performances were far from the caliber of Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, Diesel was sufficiently badass and muscle bound for them; he even gave a legitimately good performance in a legitimately good action movie, A Man Apart. His career from there featured some unfortunate choices: he seemed to really care about The Chronicles of Riddick, which really, really sucked. That seemed to derail things, leading him into a crappy movie co-starring with Lauren Graham and a duck (although, admittedly The Pacifier had one scene that made me laugh really hard), a terrible sci-fi film called Babylon AD, and Find Me Guilty, a movie that looked so bad that even being directed by Sidney Lumet couldn’t get it taken seriously. He came back to where he belongs though, riding in cars with boys, assuming those boys are named Paul Walker.
Fast Five seems to be looked at as a movie that is all that’s wrong with Hollywood these days; it’s overlong, features too many explosions, and is aimed directly at fourteen year old boys. But what it actually represents is a truly oldschool type of movie, with an oldschool type of hero. A well-publicized aspect of Fast Five is that it signifies the franchise’s moving away from the street racing that dominated the first four installments (albeit less than usual in the fourth) toward more heist-oriented stories. Heist films go back as far as the silent era, and the heist tropes we know and love in such well-liked movies like Inception go back as early as the 1950s. And what Vin Diesel represents is the 1980s action star: the muscle-bound, "kill everything that moves", one-liner packing war machine.
His lack of continued success can be boiled down to the fact that he’s just not built for this era; The Rock’s similar failure to become an action megastar can be attributed to this as well. Vin Diesel might not be this generation’s greatest action hero (STATHAM 4 LYF!), and Fast Five might not actually be one of the best movies of the year, but they’re just updates of old formulas. By sitting through Fast Five again, I’m not celebrating all that’s wrong with modern film, I’m celebrating all that I love about the history of Hollywood. It’s formulaic, it’s often ridiculous, but when it works, it works. The reason these formulas are still in use is because they were once new and exciting, but a proper reuse of them can still be just as interesting. And I’m not going to pretend like Vin Diesel isn’t awesome just because he’s a shitty actor; when you put him in the right spot, his presence is just as enjoyable as that of a legitimately great actor.