MOVIE REVIEW: Fast and Furious 6
FAST AND FURIOUS 6-- 4 STARS
The parade of 2013 movies sequels keeps on coming. We knew Star Trek Into Darkness was coming. We knew The Hangover had to have a trilogy ending. We also knew Fast and Furious 6 was coming. For many, it's still a surprise. For all of you folks who cannot believe that this franchise has somehow lasted 12 years and six movies, you're not alone, but you're slowly becoming the minority. For all of you folks who cannot believe that gifted chaos creators of car stunts could keep raising their game and topping what is already over-the-top, then you haven't been watching these movies over the last decade. If you're in either of those areas of doubt, then you have missed a very well-executed and unexpected evolution that has staved off mediocrity and disaster.
Fast and Furious 6 continues to modify a strong franchise engine to new speeds. The 2001 original modernized Hollywood's love affair with hot cars and has slowly reached iconic guilty pleasure status for a new century's generation. For a while, it didn't look like it was going to last. Series bedrock star Vin Diesel stayed out of the Paul Walker-only 2 Fast 2 Furious in 2003 and none of the original cast, save for a quick Diesel cameo, punched their ticket for the forgettable third entry, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift in 2006. That was the peak of disinterest and the franchise looked lost.
It was then that Universal Pictures threw all they had left to secure Tokyo Drift director Justin Lin to reunite the core originals (Diesel, Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez) for one last ride. 2009's Fast and Furious was a spark plug of rejuvenation and re-ignition for the dead series like nothing seen from other franchises that lasted past a trilogy. It made more at the box office in its opening weekend than Tokyo Drift made during its entire run on its way to topping even the original's 2001 grosses. The collateral success of the comeback fourth movie bought an even bigger reunion effort in 2011 with Fast Five, arguably the best pure action movie of that year in this critic's opinion.
With the originals back in the fold again, Lin and company shrewdly brought back even more familiar faces (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Galdot, and more) from all of the previous franchises entries, both good and bad, craftily tying the whole series together to really mean more than it once did. Adding franchise savior Dwayne Johnson sealed the deal. Sneaking in theaters in April before the summer movie season hit, Fast Five surpassed $209 million here at home and over $416 million overseas becoming the top dog of the series.
When movie franchises reach sequel numbers extending to beyond the number five, one of two things happens. The positive reason is that they extend by design, coming from a steady flow of new material with an endgame in mind. Just look at Harry Potter series. The negative reason is that some greedy studio is milking its name recognition with cheesy knockoffs (some straight-to-DVD) that hopelessly drag out tired acts or cling to shreds of past nostalgia (just observe the whimpering joke that has become Die Hard after A Good Day to Die Hard earlier this year).
After resurrecting itself from the scrap heap and really raising the all-star ceiling with Fast Five, the challenge for this new sixth movie to keep that soaring momentum going is a bit overwhelming. It has staked out a flashy Memorial Day weekend debut to contend with the summer big boys like Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Hangover Part III.
Looking at the huge record box office that even topped Fast Five, we now know that it came to play! Fast and Furious 6 wholeheartedly succeeds and, despite many spoiler cats being already out of the bag for the coming seventh film next summer, it still surprises with more than enough seat-belt tightening action and twists. Go ahead and let the old farts call it dumb and redundant. They clearly don't know what fun is nowadays. Fast and Furious 6 is perfect summer entertainment.
The small time L.A. hoods and street-racing federal agent that we met 12 years ago and their connected friends, as you may remember from Fast Five, have become rich and retired international fugitives on the exotic lam after poking the bear and winning their Rio mega-heist a few years back. Just as was teased at the end of Fast Five with the post-credits meeting between DSS Agent Luke Dobbs (Johnson) and 2 Fast 2 Furious's undercover customs agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes's perfect cameo), a long-thought-dead face from the past has come back into the picture. That's Michelle Rodriguez's Letty Ortiz, the grieved-upon lost love of Dominic Torretto (Diesel), who they and we thought perished in the the fourth film.
As it turns out, she is working for one, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a dangerous former British Special Forces agent with a destructive agenda planned in London. When Dobbs and his ass-kicking new partner (MMA star Gina Carano of Haywire) track down the relaxing Dominic and reveals Letty's resurrection and involvement, it jolts him to get the whole crew back together to work with Dobbs and stop Shaw in return for full pardons that will allow them to return to the United States. With his right-hand man Brian O'Connor (Walker) becoming a new father with his sister Mia (Brewster), all involved see this as a chance to stop running. As stated earlier, with the spoilers floating around out there, that's all you need to know, but I will tease that Letty isn't the only familiar face from the past to show up.
Even after six movies, Lin and company find more new and amazing ways to impress an audience. Just when you thought they couldn't do something new with a car or vehicle, they pull off a jaw-dropper or two... or seven. The action sequences, stunt work, and car chases are top-notch, as always, and match the increasingly large global scale this franchise has elevated towards. Little quarter-mile NOS races on the L.A. streets have become international military operations to apprehend a far more skilled enemy than any of them have ever faced. While CGI has gotten more involved to pull a few tricks off, Fast and Furious 6 does not skimp on the real clanging and banging of practical effects. In that flashy tank sequence alone that you've all been seeing in the trailers, no less than 250 cars were run over and destroyed.
At the same time, Lin and the screenwriters do just enough to squeeze in enough constricting tension to make the big picture matter outside of all the fun action sequences. Fast and Furious 6 is more serious than Fast Five, but it works out to be a good thing. With Letty in the balance and more, there's enough emotional heft to not make this all about the flashy cars. Diesel, as aforementioned, has always been the bedrock of the series and the emotional core. In Fast Five, he turned an adversary into an ally with Dwayne Johnson. To see their opposing tough-talk and growls of lawman-versus-crook working together is a blast. He's part of the club now, even if he gets to be in G.I. Joe too. And, of course, there's no shortage of additional ball-busting when you get Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Gina Carano in the room with them. Just as required, everybody gets their little moment here and there.
An enormous part to this franchise's longevity, and a worthy compliment that completely deserves to be recognized, is its multiracial appeal. Entertainment Weekly mentioned this in a nice quick read on the franchise's lasting appeal two years ago and Cinema Journal put together full research even earlier in 2005 before it all became big.
Whether intentional or unintentional, in every movie entry since the 2001 beginning, men and women of different races and multiple races, both on-screen as characters and off-screen as cast, have competed, worked, loved, and collaborated side-by-side with never a hint of bias, divide, or forced comparison contests. Behind the scenes, African or Asian-American directors (2 Fast 2 Furious's John Singleton and series steward Justin Lin) have made all the movies but one. This consistent wide diversity, unspoken racial tolerance, and encouraging harmonious acceptance of all, has slowly become as transcendentally important to the franchise as its financial and cultural success and popularity. Even if the series, in essence, glorifies criminals and dangerous driving, its faces reflect America's shifting demographics and offer a worldview and attitude towards race that few movies match using subtlety over overt placating. For that combined with all of the fun, they get permission to make as many of these as they want.
As you may have already heard (the press and studio itself is quick to brag), a sure-fire seventh movie is already being fast-tracked for a July 2014 release, stretching this franchise's impressive longevity. The studio must have been confident, because it was bankrolled and cameras were rolling before this film's huge nine-figure holiday weekend box office came to fruition. They clearly had every reason to be, because they've got a winner on their hands. When you stay into the credits (and you better) to be introduced to the big-time villain for #7, whose accented and macho identity has been pretty well-spoiled for weeks now, you'll know why they were confident and living large.
LESSON #1: REMEMBER THE "RULES OF THE ROAD" AGAIN-- Just like the lame disclaimer the studio puts on each of these movies before the credits warning that these professional stunts should not be performed at home, it has become equally obligatory (this is a repeat lesson from Fast Five and will likely return next summer for part seven) to call out, from a life lessons standpoint, the infinite number of traffic violations. Yes, it's not the same movie whatsoever without the blatant disregard of seemingly every possible traffic law, but at least put on a seat belt or two, fellas, especially against a tank. Just as was said two years ago, you would lose track of the moving violations in this movie faster than you would lose track of counting "F" words in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (435, in fact, thanks Wikipedia).
LESSON #2: THE DEFINITION OF "VEHICULAR WARFARE"-- You can thank Chris "Ludacris" Bridges for this snappy line-turned-lesson. In this movie, our team of drivers has stepped up from races and elaborate heists to using their driving skills for the good guys of law and order. Normally, our fun-loving team uses their talents to evade and escape. This time around, they are using their moves for offense instead of defense. Instead of cars being shields, they're now used as lances, so to speak. When up against tanks, cargo planes, and modified open-wheel racers, the carnage that is vehicular warfare is clearly amplified.
LESSON #3: YOU DON'T TURN YOUR BACK ON FAMILY, EVEN IF THEY TURN THEIR BACK ON YOU-- Cheesy or not as a lovable line delivery from Vin Diesel, part of this series's evolution is that these former competitors and rivals, particularly Brian and Dom, have become more than just a tight-knit team, but a connected family. One of the lessons of Fast Five was that family sticks together. Here in the sixth film, it's about not turning your back on a family member that goes astray. To see Letty working for the enemy is the challenge of this lesson and the challenge for the family's mantra of "ride or die" as well.