All right, The Fast and the Furious, I give in. You got me. It was a tough fight, but I can no longer deny the guilty pleasure of watching you tear through the streets in your ridiculous muscle cars and dispense pop-culture philosophy while engaging in prepubescent flirtations with too-skinny members of the opposite sex. It’s all a grand joke… but for the first time, I really believe you’re in on it. And suddenly, the entire ludicrous affair just clicks into place.
The sixth entry in the Fast and the Furious saga certainly revels in the absurd, particularly in the climax which reverts to a pure roadrunner cartoon with the attendant attitudes in plausibility, common sense and the laws of physics. And that all arrives after someone says – in all seriousness – “how did you know the car would break our fall?” That’s part of the point, fans have argued, but until now I just haven’t felt it. It was all just macho posturing and borderline sexism wrapped around some technically impressive but dramatically inert stunt pieces. The sixth entry finally cracks that code, what used to be unintentional goofiness now fully embraces its camp side, along with some impressive action sequences and a few welcome new cast members to keep us hopping. The results might be the best F&F movie yet.
It also works in no small part because the filmmakers refuse to rest on their laurels. By the sixth movie, most franchises are in full-bore coast: recycling ideas from earlier entries while the cast does little more than cash a check. But director Justin Lin commits himself to upping the ante in every aspect of the production. “How about a showdown between Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) muscle car gang and an M1 tank? We’ve never seen that before!” And indeed we haven’t. It arrives with a minimum of CG – with real cars and real stuntmen involved – and while we’re cackling at the sheer overhyped silliness of it all, it’s hard not to be impressed at the same time.
So it goes with the rest of the film, as Interpol Slab O’ Man Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) recruits Toretto’s gang to hunt down an evil band of speedsters stealing the pieces of a deadly satellite. The McGuffin immediately sends us into the realm of little boys’ fantasies: the kind involving scores of Hot Wheels and a few G.I. Joe figures thrown in for good measure. The bad guys – mostly British because, you know, England is evil – use modified races with frontal ramps designed to flip over any car that gets in their way. Toretto’s merry crew takes off after them in an equally shiny array of fuck-you-mobiles, and whole thing soon devolves into extended jousts on the streets of London before segueing to the lonely highways of Spain.
The chases never fail to entertain. Nor do the fistfights, choreographed with a considerable amount of flair and making exquisite use of the cast’s physical skills. Former MMA fighter Gina Carano is the most welcome participant, playing The Rock’s stalwart sidekick with the kind of cool confidence we normally expect from more established stars. (Though they really needed to give her more people to hurt.) Mr. Johnson is no slouch himself in that department, and while Diesel keeps the physical stuff to a minimum, his meathead Zen master routine finds a freshness here that we haven’t seen in many years.
The plot is complete gibberish, of course, as are the sophomoric character interactions intended to invest us in what’s going on. We’re looking at living cartoons, not human beings, and the script’s insistence on treating them as such actually becomes part of the joke. (I’m also a littler perplexed at their choice of London for the setting. Let’s face it: it’s not a hot-rod town.) It can take long time to accept these flaws, particularly when Diesel and The Rock look ready to start Frenching at any moment.
Luckily, that’s not the point of the exercise. We want to see cars go really really fast in scenarios that couldn’t possibly exist in the real world, and on that front The Fast and the Furious 6 delivers. It shies away from cheating with CGI, and while some sequences obviously benefit from the safety of computer imagery, they do a whole lot the old-fashioned way. It’s quite a rush and Lin’s certainly had enough time to hone his craft with the previous three Fast and Furious movies under his belt. He doesn’t allow himself to get sidetracked, and while we’re often shaking our heads in disbelief at the shit he tries to slip by us, we always do it with a smile on our faces.
It takes a certain type to enjoy it, as always, and I’m still not sure I’m that type. This movie has got to be one of the dumbest ever made. But it holds no malice in its heart and approaches its task with cheerfulness and enthusiasm. That spirit bleeds through onto the screen, such that even when you know how silly it all is, you don’t care. They used to save films of that nature for August, when the big boys had played themselves out. Thanks to the previous five movies, the Fast and the Furious 6 now is one of the big boys. It takes glorious advantage of the opportunity, delivering a film whose over-the-top stupidity is exceeded only by its ability to entertain us regardless.