Silver Screen: Fast and Furious VI **
In the opening sequence of Fast and Furious VI, series leads Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) race a pair of cars up a winding cliffside road. They zip past each other in death-defying maneuvers along the narrow two-lane, just a second or a twitch away from plunging over the edge toward certain doom. What’s at the finish line of this race they undertake, grim-faced and flirting with oblivion? Dominic’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), who is also Brian’s wife, is about to have a baby.
Why do Dominic and Brian nearly kill one another enroute to this joyous occasion? Because these are bros with Red Bull blood and brains made of meat. They race because you’re not really living if you’re not nearly dying, or whatever X-Games tagline they’re applying to the faux-Zen machismo that has become the series’ defining pose.
The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of the highest-grossing film series of all time in large part because you don’t really need to translate or overdub crashing cars. The formula is by no means novel: Intersperse a couple of wildly over-the-top setpieces among a lot of leering shots of muscle cars and Maxim-ready pinups. The best entries in the series (parts I, IV, and V) succeed when the big stunts really wow, while the lesser installments (II and II) turn frenzy into tedium. The quality gap between the good ones and the bad ones is negligible; at their best they’re dazzlingly stupid, at their worst they’re not so dazzling and stupid.
As our heroes prove in the opening scene, there’s little need for an excuse to drive cars real fast, but regular series director Justin Lin goes ahead and gives them one anyway. Generic bad guy Shaw (Luke Evans) is waging what the film hilariously calls “vehicular warfare” against NATO forces and various state agencies in a bid to acquire all the parts necessary to build a high-tech bomb that could wipe out an entire country’s communications systems. The authorities, led by former foe-turned-friend Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), immediately declare themselves useless and farm the job of catching Shaw out to Dominic’s crew of internationally wanted criminals. To lure Dominic into the job, Hobbs presents him with proof that his ex-girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), last seen being killed and buried in the fourth movie, is still alive and working for Shaw’s crew. Dominic agrees to take the case in exchange for full amnesty for himself and all of his partners.
Then a bunch of cars crash.
The various car-crash sequences are stitched together with meaningless quips and hilariously nonsensical tough-guy dialogue. Sample line: “This guy hits like thunder, and disappears like smoke.” Thunder, of course, doesn’t hit, it just makes a noise but causes no damage, and it remains unclear if the disappearing smoke is in any way related to the thunder. No word on the status of the lightning or how it might fit into this metaphor. Even better sample line: Hobbs tells Dominic that if he seeks revenge rather than completing his stated mission, “amnesty and pardons go out the door,” to which Dominic mumbles the reply, “Those words went out the day we were born.” Huh? The existence of baby Vin Diesel precludes the existence of a pardon, even though he’s been seeking a pardon for the whole movie?
You don’t go to a Fast and Furious movie for the dialogue, of course, you go for the stunts, and that’s the primary reason VI fails to succeed on its own terms. We’re nearly an hour and a half into the movie before Lin unveils one of the series’ physics-defying chase scenes, this one featuring a runaway tank. It’s nifty, but not enough to save an already dragging movie that hinges on the silliest climax of the Fast films so far, involving an airplane and what literally must be a ten-mile-long runway. Defying physics is cool. Defying logic is not.
There’s both too much and not enough going on here, with a threadbare plot stretched mightily in order to accommodate the overloaded cast. Beyond main players Diesel, Walker, Brewster, Rodriguez, and Johnson, the script must make room for Tyrese, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, and underused newcomer Gina Carano. At times it seems Lin is struggling to find something for them all to do, and his go-to gimmick of intercutting three simultaneous action scenes grows tiresome. Even more tiresome is terrible actor Diesel’s bumbling, earnest line readings about the importance of family, which only make him sound like the oldest Juggalo at the Gathering. These guys have made so much money off this drek, at some point they seem to have begun taking it seriously.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.