’Round about the end of 2011, I started hearing some serious film writers cop to enjoying Fast Five, the fifth chapter in the Fast and Furious series that stretches all the way back to 2001. It made me start wondering whether I’d written these movies off too hastily as exercises in gearhead porn. I went into Fast & Furious 6 with an open mind, ready to eat my words if necessary.
Well, I don’t have to worry about stuffing myself. The characters are still cardboard, the acting still monotonous, the attempts at humor still cringe-inducing, the macho preening still unquestioned, and the dialogue still bad enough to kill plants and small animals. (“These guys ride like thunder and disappear like smoke!”) Our heroes still walk away from crashes that would maim you or me. Worst of all is the way this merry band of car thieves and outlaw racers can’t stop maundering about how they’re all a family.
Yet despite all this, I have to admit that I enjoyed this current movie and about half the one that came before, where I definitely didn’t enjoy the earlier ones. Why is this? Uh, let’s see:
The bulk of the movie takes place in London, where a British ex-military baddie named Shaw (Luke Evans) has his crew of criminals and precision drivers stealing pieces of equipment to construct a device that’ll force the world’s governments to … yeah, you don’t care. On Shaw’s trail, CIA agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) calls Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) out of a relatively quiet retirement in the Canary Islands to take the villain down. The outlaws are eager to help once they learn that Dom’s ex, Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), who was presumed to have been killed at the beginning of the fourth movie, is alive and working for Shaw.
This movie boasts two very good large-scale action sequences, one of which doesn’t even involve a car. The first comes midway through the film when the two crews meet in Waterloo Station, leading to a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Rodriguez and Haywire star Gina Carano (as Hobbs’ second-in-command). This is intercut with a slapstickier fight in which Dom’s buddies Roman and Han (Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang) have their asses handed to them by an Indonesian silat fighter (Joe Taslim from The Raid: Redemption). The other one is the climactic sequence, with the good guys trying to stop Shaw from making his escape on a cargo plane. This is a complex bit, with gunfights and hand-to-hand combat taking place on board the aircraft and inside the cars pursuing it, and the good guys trying to force the plane down by firing metal cables into it. Justin Lin, the franchise’s longtime director who’s no relation to me, doesn’t manage this in the most fluid way, but he keeps the action moving without losing track of anyone, which is no small accomplishment.
That last scene ends with the absurdly funny sight of a car punching through the plane’s hull as it goes down in flames. Since Fast Five, Lin has at long last given up the pretense that any of this is to be taken seriously. The movies are much better for embracing their inherent ridiculousness. When Dom saves Letty by leaping from a freeway overpass to tackle her after she’s been catapulted off a different overpass, you don’t have the willpower to question the physics-defying nature of the stunt. You just laugh and think, “Fine.”
The opening credits here include a montage of clips from each of the first five movies, which makes it feel like the end of something, and yet clearly the filmmakers are gearing up for even more vehicular mayhem. The end of the film features a cameo by another action-movie star that’ll have fans of the series salivating for a seventh installment. (It also bridges the gap in the chronology between this and the events in the third film, in case anybody cares.) None of this comes anywhere close to making Fast & Furious 6 into a good movie or even the third-best action-thriller in theaters right now, but it does prevent this series from droning on in zombie-like fashion. There’s still some gas left in the tank here.
Fast & Furious 6
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne Johnson. Directed by Justin Lin. Written by Chris Morgan. Rated PG-13.