Steel-crunching fun

Supercharged sixth outing in Fast & Furious series is a swift kick

Posted: May 24, 2013 at 3:12 a.m.

Dom (Vin Diesel) is the daddy figure looking out for an extended family of car thieves in Justin Lin’s adrenaline-soaked Fast & Furious 6.

Like a shaky sitcom still trying to find its footing, the first few Fast flicks, starting in 2001, hadn’t yet settled on a winning formula. The original was a simple drag racing/crime lord piece based on a magazine article about kids’ hot wheels compunctions in Los Angeles. A quick cash-in on popular racing video games, it starred Paul Walker and Vin Diesel as an undercover cop and drag racing expert, respectively, who challenge each other to a seemingly endless series of street races. A minor hit, it seemed to fulfill its limited purpose, but a funny thing happened on its way to total inconsequence - fans liked the unlikely chemistry between its two wooden leads and a franchise was spawned.

Ready, Steady, Go

Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom (Vin Diesel) race for pinks through London in this clip from Universal's Fast & Furious 6. (By Courtesy of Universal Studios)
[View Full-Size]

Still, it wasn’t until director Justin Lin took on the fourth installment, 2009’s Fast & Furious, that the series finally figured out precisely what it was after: a combination of Guns & Ammo, Motor Trend and Maxim magazines, with complicated heist schemes like something out of Mission: Impossible. Subsequent sequels have become biennial fixtures of glitz, glam and burning rubber with each installment improving on the original by a significant factor.

Over the years, more stars were added - most notably Dwayne Johnson as a federal agent forever hounding the team - along with bigger set pieces and more elaborate capers, but the essence was set. Perhaps most shockingly, the films have also been a dumb but rollicking good time, everything slam-bang summer action flicks always promise but all too often fail to provide.

Naturally, the less said about the supposed plots of the films, the better, and this latest installment is no different. Suffice it to say that a new international threat causes Agent Hobbs (Johnson, so ripped and pumped in his skintight shirt, he looks like a pile of shapely boulders) to come to Dom (Diesel) and Brian (Walker), living the high-life as retired criminals in Spain, to get the team back together to help him take out a formerly CIA-sanctioned military whack job named Shaw (Luke Evans). Thus, we get the whole gang back ( including Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang and Ludacris) as Dom gets to pursue the truth behind a mysterious photo that shows his formerly dead girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), very much alive and helping Shaw achieve his dastardly ends.

The plot ain’t much, but if you are induced to go to these films for subtle, intricate story machinations, you might want to rethink your priorities. Instead of character nuance and story depth, the film provides a mostly winning formula of insane action sequences, extremely fast car racing on densely populated city streets and idiotically thrilling fight scenes.

There is a set-to involving a violent car chase down the clogged streets of London, another involving a long stretch of elevated thruway in Spain with an impossibly fast moving tank and a fiery conclusion with many expensive cars and a getaway airplane hurtling down a runway with no apparent end. As typical with this series, the stunts are satisfyingly ridiculous and the final showdown - which plays at times almost precisely like a heavyweight cage match from Mr. Johnson’s erstwhile career in the WWE - involves so many different confrontations and elements, it all blurs together in one lengthy, electric swirl.

The through-line in all these films is Dom’s undying sense of family loyalty. He’s a man so driven by the cause of his friends, he refuses to give up on anyone, no matter how much trouble it gets him in. It still doesn’t make him much more than a fleshy, bald chalk outline of a character, nor does it help instill Diesel’s stubbornly numb line readings with anything actually resembling human emotion, but it dutifully helps get us to the next car caper, which is entirely the point.

Director Lin, now a series old-hand, is smart enough to realize precisely which end of the piston his motor oil is on, so he rarely slows down enough for the film to lose its considerable momentum. In this way, it’s every bit as hyperactive as its characters. Even a fraught love scene, as Dom and Letty are reunited, involves a swirling camera that refuses to settle into any spot for more than a beat. It can get exhausting, but based on the gratified “oohs” and “ahhs” from the sympathetic audience (one woman sitting near me kept bursting out in single applause in key action scenes), it’s certainly not lost on its sizable contingent of fans.

And at this point, not yet the end of May and already neck-deep in summer bang bang, what more can you even ask for from the big studios? They want to keep us coming to their high-octane tent-pole franchises, so they can’t let go of the wheel for even a moment. No sooner has the first wave of credits rolled than we are introduced to the explosive seeds of what will be the absolutely inevitable sequel. We get to see the next film’s villain in action, and let us just say it achieves a certain obligatory kind of perfection. Drive on.

Fast & Furious 6 85 Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang, Ludacris Director: Justin Lin Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language Running time: 130 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 05/24/2013