Fast Five: How to Write an Action Movie

Fast Five OnesheetI’m a little slow getting around to Fast Five, which might seem to make me the wrong audience for this movie, which is all about speed and precise timing. I wasn’t sure I would like it because I thought it would be what some people call a “popcorn movie.” And in fact, it is. This isn’t a movie that will change your life or reveal something important about the human condition. It’s not a movie that expands the art and/or technology of filmmaking. The story is predictable. In fact, everything about the movie is predictable. It’s completely mindless, completely disposable.

And I’ve got to admit I loved it all. Does that make it a great movie? No. It’s trash. But it’s honest trash. It’s trash without pretense. For that, you have to give it credit.

Here’s how to write an action movie like this one:

      Cast actors with stone faces who can show flickers of anger or amusement when necessary. Nothing more is needed.

Have the characters take on “one last heist,” a piece of cake that will go terribly, terribly wrong.

Make sure your villain is from another culture.

Include treachery from within the ranks, followed by redemption and sacrifice.

Include one unlikely alliance with the enemy.

Include the line “We’re not going to make it” at a high point in the action.

Include the line “Go, go, go!” as necessary.

Include the line “Let’s do this” as the heroes make one last stand.

When it seems as though things can’t get worse for the good guys, make things get worse.

Arrange a showdown between the hero and the bad guys on an ascending scale of importance, saving the villain for last.

Sprinkle liberally with guns, chases, explosions, and beautiful women but no sex.

Despite the story’s transparency, the movie does one thing very well—action, which is, well, fast and furious. Our guys steal cars from a moving train. They shackle a huge vault to a couple of supercharged sports cars and haul it through the city while scores of police cars chase them.

Some of the stunts take your breath away. There’s a moment, shown in the previews, when Vin Diesel and Paul Walker drive off a cliff. I’m sure there are a hundred ways to do this with CGI, rear projection, hidden wires, and Criss Angel. But as the car pitches off the cliff, a small detail makes you forget all the artifice. Walker’s standing on the back of the convertible, holding on to the roll-bar. As the car falls out from under him, he seems to elevate slightly, his feet lifting off the back of the car. In other words, it looks as though the car is really falling from a great height.

I’m still hoping that movies will give women more to do than stand around and pout. Most of the women in Fast Five are interchangeable and thin to the point of anorexia. In fact, the men—especially Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson with all their pecs and glutes, etc.—have more curves than the women. When did this trend start, and why didn’t I get the memo?

Of course, the action is all outrageously unrealistic. So unrealistic that the moviemakers knew they needed a disclaimer. At the end of the movie, a title appears that reads, “The motor vehicle acts depicted in this film are dangerous.” Is that insane or what? I mean, who needs to be told that?

OK, OK, I admit that I revved my Prius a few extra times before leaving the parking lot. And yes, I even pulled a heist on my way home. Inspired by the chase scene with the vault, I hauled something off down the street. I’ll tell you what, that kid will think twice before he sets up another lemonade stand in my neighborhood!

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Author: Brent Spencer

I'm a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. My most recent book, a memoir, is Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father. I live on an acreage in eastern Nebraska and teach creative writing at Creighton University. You can find out more about me and at http://brentspencerwriter.com. (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

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