Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

I feel it’s necessary from time to time, for the sake of my critical pedigree, to begin a review with the disclaimer that there is a place on the pop culture landscape for mindless, escapist entertainment. We can not live in a world, nor should we, where every film is Citizen Kane and while all movies should be evaluated based on their merits, it’s also appropriate to reward a production for succeeding at its own unique mission. So, as we enter the core of the Summer Movie Season, filled to overflowing with loud noises, big explosions and male gaze, let us remember that a little popcorn, from time to time, is good for the soul.

It is in that spirit that I give my full recommendation to Fast and Furious 6, the latest installment of the “Ride or Die” franchise that somehow seems to get better with age. Twelve years after The Fast and The Furious made a star of Vin Diesel and inserted Nitrous into the national lexicon, we again find our original pack of anti-heroes (with a few additions picked up along the way that makes the Fast franchise one of the most notably diverse casts in Hollywood, a feat in itself) behind the wheel at breakneck speeds.

There isn’t much to the plot. Essentially, the skills of this rag-tag group of former thieves are recruited by returning human locomotive Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays FBI agent Luke Hobbs, to stop a similarly vehicle-inclined international criminal, played by rising star Luke Evans. Evans’ team is effectively a shadow-squad of our heroes alternates, but includes the plot-point addition of Michelle Rodrigues’ Letty, presumed dead after the events of Fast 4. Conveniently, her memory seems to have been damaged in her near-death experience, providing a reasonable motivation for her actions without betraying “the family.”

I’ve never been a Fast and Furious apologist by any means. If anything I was little more than a casual observer having watched the original film and its fourquel Fast and Furious, bypassing Tokyo Drift altogether and catching snippets of 2Fast 2Furious during scattered rebroadcasts on TNT.

But then came Fast Five, in which the little franchise that could abandoned its lingering attempts at being both a glum urban rock opera and hip-hop music video to instead embrace the gasoline-fueled bravado of a full scale balls-to-the-fall action extravaganza. I came to see Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson pummel each other into pudding but was fully converted at the seemingly hours-long scene in which two cars lay waste to Rio de Janeiro by dragging a gargantuan safe, tumbling and tossing, through the streets.

That sense of unapologetic fun and unhinged madness continues in Fast 6, as the plot skips gingerly from one elaborate action sequence to the next, at one point involving a tank chase (pictured above) and finally climaxing in a car vs. car vs. airplane showdown on the world’s longest runway.

Despite the absurdity and potentially physics-defying shenanigans on screen, director Justin Lin is careful to maintain as much realism as possible, employing truly impressive practical effects and touching up with digital chicanery only as a last resort. The result is an old-school thrill ride more reminiscent of the glory era of American action that brought us the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon franchises than the modern overload of flash-bang CG wizardry. Want to see it in 3d? You can't, because that ain't how Lin do, another impressive feat given the action genre's current love affair with the completely pointless and unnecessary medium. In a market over-saturated with loud noises, Fast 6 manages to stand apart by somehow being bigger and louder.

Fast 6 also manages to unite the various hanging threads of its 5 predecessors, details that will go largely unnoticed by the uninitiated but appreciated by longtime fans (for example, were you aware that Fasts 4, 5 and 6 are actually PRE-quels to Fast 3?). It also ends with a jaw-dropping final tease setting up the inevitable Fast 7 that has THIS art- and indie-film aficionado counting the days for the next installment.

Grade: B+

*Fast & Furious 6 opens wide in theaters on May 24.

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