May 24, 2013

Fast & Furious 6

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Fast & Furious 6

ACTION:

United States, 2013

U.S. Release Date:

2013-05-24

Running Length:

2:10

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Jordana Brewster, Gina Carano, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris

Director:

Justin Lin

Screenplay:

Chris Morgan

Cinematography:

Stephen F. Windon

Music:

Lucas Vidal

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


"Mindless entertainment": that's a phrase that will be repeated often enough in association with Fast & Furious 6, which exists purely to showcase how idiotically over-the-top action sequences can become when annoyances like gravity are tossed to the side. As far as the description goes, I'll agree wholeheartedly with "mindless," which is less of an opinion than a statement of fact. "Entertainment" is in the eye of the beholder. For me, watching Fast & Furious 6 was more work than fun. There's enough stupidity in movies these days that it seems counterproductive to celebrate it.

Fast & Furious 6 delivers almost everything anticipated from it, so it's difficult to complain that it doesn't satisfy expectations. For those who loved the previous installments, enjoyment of this one is almost a slam-dunk. For those who, like me, have had reservations about the series as a whole, this installment provides little in the way of optimism. Fast & Furious 6 doesn’t vary much from the things that have made the franchise popular: fast cars, women in bikinis, and PG-13 action. That means lots of pointless chases/races that are more often routine than exciting, fights that go on and on and on with promises of resolution only in the final fifteen minutes, and a lot of CGI-enhanced stunts.

To the joint credit of director Justin Lin and Universal Pictures, this isn't in 3-D. That's probably because the amount of fast-cutting necessary to piece together the action sequences doesn't lend itself to the format. Fast & Furious 6's stunt work has largely been assembled in post-production, with machine-gun editing and computer-aided special effects accomplishing things that no live human could achieve. As is typical of this approach, it can be difficult figuring out what's going on during segments of the fight and/or chase scenes, but some viewers deem this visual chaos to be a benefit.

Fast & Furious 6 boasts a few intriguing action set-ups. A chase with a tank barreling down a freeway is unique, although the ending is so over-the-top that is crosses the line into self-parody. It's laugh-aloud funny and I'll give Lin enough credit to believe this was intentional. If not, then he has miscalculated. For the most part, Fast & Furious 6 comes across much like a live action cartoon. With the threat of death effectively removed (now that a previously killed character has returned to life) and gravity sent on holiday every time there's an action sequence, there's no reason to worry about negative consequences for the good guys. Okay, so one or two of them might meet the Grim Reaper but, if they're popular enough, they'll be back for another outing.

The plot feels like warmed-over bad James Bond. Think of the worst 007 outing and the story still holds together better than this. The underlying premise is that a top British criminal, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), is in the process of gathering the components for what will be, when assembled, a doomsday weapon worth several billion dollars. A member of Shaw's crew is none other than Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), previously thought dead and now conveniently afflicted with amnesia. When her ex-lover, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), learns that she's alive, he agrees to work with special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and his ass-kicking female cohort, Riley (Gina Carano), to bring in Shaw. Dom re-assembles his team, including best bud, Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), and everyone heads off to London.

In Fast & Furious 6, the only thing dumber than the plot is the dialogue. Character development, never a strong suit in the series, has been largely eliminated from this one in keeping with the cartoon flavor. In the previous Fast & Furious movies, whether good, bad, or indifferent, at least attempts were made to do something with the characters. Here, everything is disappointingly perfunctory. Dom, Brian, Letty, and the rest might as well be CGI animated characters for all the personality they show. None of the returning actors bring much to the production. Vin Diesel and The Rock engage in a contest to see who can scowl more convincingly. Paul Walker has given up trying to do anything more than play Diesel's sidekick. Rodriguez makes us wonder why they felt it was desirable to bring back her character (beyond providing a post-credits jolt to Fast 5). The only one who seems invested in his role is newcomer Luke Evans - his villain is both energetic and intelligent (the only time I'll use the latter word in association with this movie).

For action junkies, it's useful to compare Fast & Furious 6 with something like Dredd or The Raid: Redemption. Those, of course, are real action films with hardcore fight scenes and equally over-the-top excursions into mayhem. The difference is that Dredd and The Raid: Redemption offer a level of excitement and energy that's lacking from Fast & Furious 6. They're visceral. They elevate the pulse. It's all in style and delivery (and undoubtedly the ability to offer R-rated violence has something to do with it). Watching Dredd and The Raid: Redemption, I felt like I was viewing a movie. Watching Fast & Furious 6, I felt like I was watching a video game that would have been more fun if I was playing.

Fast & Furious 6 will earn millions upon millions of dollars, because this kind of "mindless entertainment" appeals to least-common denominator audiences. Despite some puzzling choices along the way, the franchise has endured and now offers a recognizable brand. Some entries are better than others. While the wildly implausible action sequences in Fast & Furious 6 are on par with those of its predecessors, the in-between material is substantially weaker, indicating that the movie perhaps should have completely ignored a plot and just offered 90 minutes of non-stop, uncorrelated action. This isn't the worst Fast & Furious, but it's not the best, either. Yet it delivers the cartoonish action it promises and offers a crackling cliff-hanger, so Fast & Furious 7 is a given.

That's all, folks.

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