Fast & Furious 6
2 1/2 out of 4 stars
Made for a then paltry $38 million in 2001, the first installment in the "Fast & Furious" series made back nearly seven times its' budget and birthed Universal Studios its first bona fide franchise in years. Not about to let a good thing slip by the wayside, Universal has cranked out the sequels out with assembly line precision and each edition out-performs the last. It is a prime example of Hollywood at its most efficient and, not surprisingly, most unimaginative.
Not pretending to be anything more than what they are, the "F&F" flicks are pure disposable product and are to cinema what all-you-eat salad bars are to fine cuisine. You get more than you could possibly consume and most of it is in empty calories. The movies are big, loud, brawny, sometimes sexy, mostly fast and occasionally furious (whatever the heck than means).
The problem with an action franchise that has made it this far is the always-increasing expectations of the target audience. Each one has to be faster and "furiouser" than the last and what started out as a (relatively) modest movie about illegal street racing has escalated into overblown pyrotechnic orgies featuring vehicles that are not even cars with characters doing stuff generally reserved for other movies' characters with the words "bat," "super," "iron" or "Bond" somewhere in their names.
For those who are fond of this collective -- and that would obviously be a whole bunch of people -- "F&F6" will more than deliver the goods. Clocking in at 130 bone-crushing, butt-numbing minutes, it is stuffed to the gills with chase scenes, fight scenes, automatic weapons exchanges, scantily-clad babes dancing in slow-mo to bass-heavy rap and hip-hop, a tank barreling down a highway and a car driving through the cockpit of an airplane. It is unadulterated sensory overload.
Shot in London, Glasgow, L.A. and the Canary Islands, "F&F6" is also beautifully photographed and expertly choreographed. One particular scene shows a character diving from a car to catch another that was jettisoned from the afore-mentioned tank and landing on another vehicle after a long drop. It is a sight to see. The only way the studio is going to be able to top the action shown here is by setting at least some of the seventh installment (currently filming, due in theaters on July 11, 2014) on a volcano, in the eye of a hurricane, in outer space, or maybe turning the human characters into actual vehicles, a la "Transformers."
What may catch some by surprise are the handful of scenes where nothing fast and/or furious takes place and the characters actually talk with each other using their indoor voices. Occasionally one of them says something funny or, in the case of Dwayne Johnson returning as government agent Hobbs, he abstains from talking altogether and simply tosses a bad guy into the walls and ceiling of an interrogation room. Easily the most talented performer in the film (and the only one not dependent on the series for a paycheck), Johnson (on the heels of "Pain and Gain") offers further proof he is more than just another professional wrestler-turned-actor.
As for the slim-as-Cliffs-Notes plot ... it's more tag-team secret agent than street racing and makes a teeny-tiny bit of sense. Realizing he and the government will never be able to catch the generic international terrorist/mad man Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) by legal means, Hobbs offers the now-living-abroad F&F felons a chance for immunity. If they can catch Shaw, all of them can return to the U.S. without fear of prosecution for what they did in installment five.
For fans of the franchise, they'll certainly be pleased as punch to find out that the character Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) -- also the once girlfriend of Dom (Vin Diesel) -- might not be dead. What's most impressive about this particular story wrinkle is that it's actually plausible. Also on the positive side, the Paul Walker character (Brian) is much more imposing than before, but his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) -- also Dom's sister -- is barely seen and is woefully underused.
Ending in something of a full-circle manner, "F&F6" also deserves points for not giving too much away regarding what might happen in the next outing and hard-core fans should definitely stick around through the closing credits where what looks like to be the next villain (a well-known English-born action star) is introduced.
It certainly isn't great and for some not even close to good, but "F&F6" is at least honest and pure to its creed and will more than thrill the franchise's dedicating following. That's faint praise but praise nonetheless. (Universal)