Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

Fast & Furious 6
Directed by: Justin Lin.
Written by: Chris Morgan based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson.
Starring: 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), Ludacris (Tej), Luke Evans (Shaw), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Gina Carano (Riley), Clara Paget (Vegh), Kim Kold (Klaus), Johannes Taslim (Jah), Samuel M. Stewart (Denlinger), Benjamin Davies (Adolfson), Matthew Stirling (Oakes), David Ajala (Ivory), Thure Lindhardt (Firuz), Shea Whigham (Stasiak), John Ortiz (Braga).
After watching Fast & Furious 6, I think it’s time to admit that I have been too hard on this series of movies over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all of sudden saying that the films represent great art, because they don’t. They are still 6 absolutely ridiculous movies that in order to enjoy you have to turn off your brain. Yet, the series has done two rather remarkable things. The first is that the quality of the movies has been consistent over 6 movies – none of them are great, none of them are terrible, they are all varying degrees of good or ok – in fact this sixth installment just may be my favorite. The second thing the series has done that most series of its ilk has not – it has kept up its continuity. That may seem like I’m damning the movie with faint praise, but I don’t intend to – considering how many horror franchises make 6 or more installments of their series – and considering that most of them become unwatchable by the third installment, this is much harder than it looks.

The second remarkable thing about the series is that while I may not take the storylines very seriously –the filmmakers do. In Fast & Furious 6, the film brings back characters – both major and minor – from all the other installments, and keeps trusts the audience to know who they are. And not once but twice, the film flashes back to earlier installments, and gives us additional information then we had at the time – once to explain why one of the characters we thought was dead isn’t, and the other time to put a character’s death into a broader context. The films have been toying with us ever since installment number 4 – when the filmmakers rightly realized that if they were going to bring back just one character from Tokyo Drift, it damn well better be Han (Sung Kang), and found a way around his death in that movie, by setting the three movies that came after Tokyo Drift before it on the series’ internal timeline. Ever since, Han has been my favorite character. Now perhaps all of that is too serious for a movie – and series – like Fast & Furious – I’ll certainly admit that it is. But it is one of things I appreciate about the series – the filmmakers take it seriously enough that they don’t take the lazy way out like many series do, but not so seriously that it drags the movies down – turning the Han deathwatch into a dark, running joke (every movie has him reference moving to Tokyo – but he never does).

I’ve rambled on about these things and not Fast & Furious 6 by itself, because really, what is there that needs to be said? By this point, you’re either into this series or not – you can either sit back, turn off your brain and enjoy two hours of fast cars, gorgeous women, action, Vin Diesel’s gritty voice, and Paul Walker’s blank stares or you can’t. The movies do seem to try and up the ante every time out – so this time – and I’m giving nothing away since both in the trailer – the boys and their cars take on a tank in one scene in a jumbo jet in another. Can you believe any of this? Of course not. Do you really care? I didn’t.

This movie benefits from a few other things as well. I thought the last installment missed Michelle Rodriguez’s tough, sexy Letty – and apparently the filmmakers did too because they bring her back – but this time, she’s on the other side, and is the bait Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) uses to get Domenic and his team to help him stop a madman bent on assembling some sort of device that could cripple a nation (is this the fast and furious or a Bond movie). And then they also bring Gina Carano from Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire– the one woman I could believe could hold her own in a fight with Rodriguez – and she proceeds to do that not once but twice.

This may be the last installment of the series directed by Justin Lin – who has directed the last four, and has done an increasingly good job each time out. Because they wanted Fast & Furious 7 – which they set up in this one – ready for next year, Lin didn’t think he could do it in time, and backed out. The reins will be taken over by James Wan – who did the first Saw movie (which is good – don’t blame him for what happened later in the series) and the even better Insidious. Perhaps this is a blessing for Lin. He burst onto the scene with the wonderful, dark high school film Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) about very smart Asian kids who gradually dig themselves in deeper and deeper into trouble until someone ends up dead. Since then, he has essentially been doing this series (and the largely forgettable Annapolis). Perhaps now, he can fulfill more of the promise he showed in Better Luck Tomorrow.

I’m not claiming that Fast & Furious 6 is a great movie. It’s not. But it excels at being precisely what it is. You cannot take a moment of it seriously, and you’ll likely forget many of the details before you hit the parking lot. But as big, dumb, loud, fast summer entertainment goes – Fast & Furious 6 fits the bill nicely.

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