Fast & Furious 6
Director : Justin Lin
Screenplay : Chris Morgan (based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2013
Stars : Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tej), Luke Evans (Shaw), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Gina Carano (Riley), Clara Paget (Vegh), Kim Kold (Klaus), Joe Taslim (Jah), Samuel M. Stewart (Denlinger)
As it enters the kind of numerical territory that had previously been the province of slasher films in the 1980s and ’90s, the Fast & Furious franchise continues to flex its muscle in its sixth installment, which like the previous films stretches into new genre territory while still maintaining the basic expectations of big muscles, fast cars, and loud guns, all scored to hip-hop and techno beats that ensure a constant sense of pulsating intensity. While the last entry, Fast Five (2011), was a riff on heist movies, Fast & Furious 6 is more of an international espionage thriller, as the cast of familiar faces once again joins together, albeit this time to track down a notorious global terrorist who is hijacking military convoys and stealing various components that can be assembled into a very dangerous Macguffin that has something to do with wiping out communications on military bases.
Once again helmed by Justin Lin and written by Chris Morgan, who have overseen the last four films in the series, Fast & Furious 6 is rousingly enjoyable, even if some of its familiarity is starting to evince a threadbare quality that drains the excitement in exchange for a “This again?” sigh (the inevitable street race sequence, for example, prefaced as it is with interchangeably fetishistic slow-motion imagery of rumbling muscle cars and exposed female body parts, is particularly tiresome and egregious). Lin and Morgan also seem to be feeling the pressure to deliver bigger and bigger setpieces, which they deliver with aplomb, but also with a bit too much mania and lack of focus. One of the things that made Fast Five so visceral was the clarity and physicality of its action; the sixth installment maintains some of that, but also gives in to computer-generate hyperbole, especially in the muddy-looking climax in which half-a-dozen cars chase down and are eventually cabled to an enormous cargo plane that is about to take off from a runway that is apparently at least the length of an interstate highway.
One of the other chief pleasures of Fast Five was the manner in which it assembled a motley mix of multicultural characters from all the earlier sequels, and since that has been done already, Fast & Furious 6 is left with the important, albeit less showy, job of solidifying those relationships (the themes of “family” and “loyalty” run deep in the series, and find their strongest articulations here, as the film regularly celebrates families of both blood and choice). The central relationship remains the bond between group leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), a former cop who had previously tried to nab Dom and has since become his partner and best friend. When the film opens, Brian and his girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster), who also happens to be Dom’s sister, have just had a baby. “Our old life is over,” Dom tells Brian as he walks into the delivery room, but we know different, especially since that line of dialogue is delivered right before the hyperkinetic opening credits celebrating all their past exploits start rolling. Past, as it turns out, is prologue.
The old life returns in the form of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the bulging, muscle-bound government manhunter who was Dom’s chief nemesis in Fast Five but now needs him to help track down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), the previously mentioned international terrorist (Johnson isn’t nearly as funny here as he was in the previous film, perhaps because his lines, however expertly barked, don’t have quite the same unexpected ring of silliness). Hobbs knows that Dom has a personal stake in the matter because Shaw is working with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s longtime girlfriend who was supposedly killed during an undercover operation in the fourth film, Fast & Furious (2009), and is now an amnesiac with no memory of her relationship with Dom. Thus, Dom’s real mission is not so much to catch Shaw, but rather to release Letty from his clutches and return her to her proper “family” (Shaw’s gang is clearly presented as a kind of doppelganger for Dom’s gang, although not much is done with it).
The other familiar faces from the crew Dom assembled in Fast Five— Tyrese Gibson’s fast-talking Roman, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges’s computer and mechanical maestro Tej, Gal Gadot’s special ops expert Gisele, and Sung Kang’s high-speed racer Han—are all quickly brought back from the various corners of the earth to which they have scattered and put back in action. Again, there is little that is surprising here, but the pleasure in getting the gang back together has its own draw, especially since the actors have developed a real chemistry and sense of good-natured camaraderie (particularly Gibson and Bridges, who have a nice odd couple quality).
And, while there are a few narrative twists and some character revelations that will likely surprise most viewers, the majority of Fast & Furious 6 rests on our goodwill from the rest of the series, banking on the gratification of the familiar done well. And, when that doesn’t quite fly, there is always an action sequence waiting just around the corner, or more specifically, multiple, simultaneously occurring action sequences, which allows Lin to cut back and forth lest we become bored with only one fistfight or car chase. At times it feels like a bit too much, as maintaining that equilibrium of all-out velocity and simmering tension is always a tricky endeavor (although a slow-motion midair head-butt delivered with maximum velocity is surely one of the series’ greatest over-the-top moments). Like its predecessors, Fast & Furious 6 barrels ahead on all cylinders, often running over both logic and the laws of physics, but really, do we expect otherwise? Let’s just hope that whoever takes over for Lin in directing the inevitable seventh installment fine-tunes this thundering machine with a little more precision and finesse.
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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