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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oh, 'FAST & FURIOUS', Never Change...

Dominic (Vin Diesel), in one of the film's many gravity-defying scenes

Not like after twelve years and six wildly successful films (the latest already a hit in the UK), the franchise has any intention of becoming something other than the nonsensical and over the top spectacle we're accustomed to anyway.

But this is not going to be a scathing or pretentious review of the newest installment, FAST & FURIOUS 6. I'm pretty sure you can find a number of those anywhere else. Rather, this is more like a review of concession, because these films are gloriously ridiculous. They don't try to be anything else, and you eventually kinda begin to love that.

At least, that's where I am at with the series. It also helped that I didn't bother to check out the middle films--2, 3 and 4--so I don't have that overwhelming sense of fatigue others might have after watching the same asinine plot repeated in five movies. After seeing the fifth film, and now the sixth, I feel quite content with the level of sweet trash that has encapsulated the series because I know what to expect and what not to expect. It's like devouring a juicy double whopper with cheese--you know it's not exactly good for you, but you just can't not eat it. Afterwards you're completely disgusted with yourself yet pleasantly satisfied at the same time.

If you go into FAST & FURIOUS 6 knowing and appreciating that, you should be just fine. The story is once again set in an exotic location where a tight group of criminals bond over their shared love of fast, shiny cars.The film opens at a very familiar point reintroducing the antiheroes from the last film--Dominic (Vin Diesel), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), Gisele (Gal Gabot), Brian (Paul Walker), Han (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges).

(Left to Right) Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Dominic (Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker)

Dominic and Detective Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) are now pretty chummy (you may remember how their romance got started in Fast Five). Mia and Brian are basking in the glow of parenthood. Han and Gisele are also an item, and extremely adorable (it's not every day we get to see an Asian and Israeli matched on screen). And Tej and Roman continue to revel in their millions and trade quips, some of which are recycled but are still fondly welcomed.

Elena's partner, Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), is now teamed with Riley (Gina Carano, Haywire). They're after Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who's involved in some kind of high-tech, high-speed heist (it's not well explained, and not especially important. You just need to know he's the bad guy). Hobbs and Riley recruit Dominic's crew to take down Owen and his posse of maniacs, with a particularly alluring note for Dominic that his dead ex-girlfriend and love of his life, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), may be alive and somehow involved. With that, the gang abandons their plush, retired existence, and enter back into the world of mayhem and vehicular crime.

They learn that this Shaw fellow is way more technologically advanced than they all imagined, and therefore they need to amp up their game. Amid bloated action sequences (that culminate to the audience discovering that Diesel may actually be able to fly, like with wings and stuff), wooden line delivery and effective bromance, the film reads like any other in the franchise.

(Left to Right) Riley (Gina Carano) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in a duel

But what sets this one apart from its predecessors is the return of Michelle Rodriguez, reminding audiences that she's freakin' awesome. We're not sure which team she's playing for (and the brief explanation of her immortality is more than a little ludicrous), but when Letty throws elbows with Riley in an underground subway, it is pure bliss to watch. On the one hand, you feel you should root for the obvious good guy, Riley, but then IT'S MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ. So you're understandably conflicted. In a film that's largely testosterone-fueled, save for a few notable ass-kicking scenes with Gabot, it's nice to see a female versus female combat that could rival the epic brawl between Diesel and Johnson in Fast Five.

If Johnson revived the franchise in the last film, Rodriguez took it to a whole new level. As usual, her ability to compel audiences goes far beyond knowing how to throw a punch or five. Since her character is shrouded in mystery, Rodriguez has the perfect opportunity to mold her into something new, creating a nuance that wasn't there before. And she does so effortlessly.

(Left to Right) Letty (Rodriguez) and Owen Shaw (Luke Evans)

Meanwhile, Diesel works through his more sentimental scenes with blood, sweat chases. If you've ever seen him any movie ever, you know that that's really all he's got.

If you're familiar with Carano, then you already know that she's a Women's Middleweight champ  and starred in Haywire in 2011, in which she wasn't particularly convincing as an actress. But in FAST & FURIOUS 6 she can rely more on her exquisite combat skills and less on her weak ability to portray a layered character. In other words, she's less talk and more action. This works exponentially better for her. And the fact that she's not playing the lead role, but rather part of an ensemble cast, is a good look.

Of course, none of the actors here are reciting Shakespeare, but the fact that they're all equally mediocre in their own special ways balances the movie and doesn't really make you second guess the talent because they're all on the same level. More importantly, they all look pretty/handsome, can handle weapons (including their fists), and can drive very, very fast. Plus, chemistry is a must. Without that, the whole film will fall apart.

That's what makes FAST & FURIOUS 6 work so well. The authentic brotherhood allows you to see the characters as friends of yours, friends with really exciting lives. And while director Justin Lin's eye for the flamboyant makes the film less credible, it's never not fun to watch even as you shake your head at the absolutely bogus action scenes.

Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson's script isn't much to write home about, but there is a twist that you won't expect at the climax of the film. Clearly they have a winning formula with Lin, since all three helped resurrect the franchise with Fast Five. Morgan and Thompson are reportedly set to return for Fast & Furious 7 (yes, that is happening, so get your helmets ready).

This is apparently Lin's final film in the franchise, which makes me shed a single tear and question whether I too will have to jump ship again until another appropriate director boards. After all, every once in a while you crave that double whopper with cheese.

FAST & FURIOUS 6  is in theaters Friday.


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