Fast and Furious 6

fF6Like exhaust through a catalytic converter, so are the days of the Torretto family.

Six installments.  Six.  Car drive and car drive fast.  This concept has spanned SIX! feature films.  As of late the crash-mania squealing-tire saga has only gained further momentum.  Vin Diesel, the legitimate star of the series, announced that next summer’s greenlit Fast 7 (set up at the closing credits of this current installment) will begin a new trilogy.  Heaven help us all.

The crew of the massive blockbuster Fast Five returns for round 6 or Furious 6 as its titled in the opening credits and the results are exactly what you expect.  Just don’t try following the titles of these movies.  And be sure to remember that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (or Fast 3) from seven years ago takes place after all previous Fast & Furious features including this sixth entry.  Still up to speed?

Picking up immediately where we left in Fast 5, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) gains a new partner in Agent Riley (MMA beauty Gina Carano, Haywire) and sets out to court Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) living peacefully on a tropical island with his newfound lady friend (and Hobbs’ former partner) Elena (Elsa Pataky).  Hobbs needs Dom to recruit his team once more to take on the international threat of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a really bad terrorist with a really bad device that is capable of something very bad and might be used by said bad terrorist or sold to another really bad terrorist.

Why would Torretto be interested?  Why even bother confiding in his F&F-chum-for-life Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) who just had a new baby boy with Torretto’s sister (Jordana Brewster)?  Because Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s murdered lover (as it happened in Fast 4) is still very much alive and may in fact be working with Shaw.  Dom needs to know for sure and “you don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

fast-furious-6Walker, Diesel, Johnson, and Carano welcome Ludacris, Sung Kang, Tyrese, and Gal Gadot in yet another family reunion full of physics-defying metal on metal stunts and set pieces linked to moments of eye-rolling blabbering buffoons yawning us to death about family values.  Justin Lin, the confident man behind the action of the last four F&F films, smolders a not-so-subtle subtext of family and loyalty over car mangling.  Dominic, our antihero, may be an outlaw, but he has a code and he protects his own which adds a great deal of honor to his outlandish escapades.  The villain Shaw, on the other hand, plays by-the-numbers and finds his team members to be no more than disposable pawns in his strategic chess game that he always holds the upper hand in.

Who cares?  I don’t and neither do viewers.  They want “vehicular warfare” and they do get it, bigger and better than usual which is a major compliment coming off the high of Fast Five.  But I have to admit I’m fatigued of this series which now throws a few too many big wrenches at my head in terms of plot.  Believe me.  I’m not referring to the stunts, which feature only slightly more lunacy than the story.

The plot is a gigantic mess of pointless setup met with needless execution. Follow the events of Fast 6 and you will scratch your head over the decisions the characters make in an effort to string together some large action sequences.  Potential SPOILERS ahead.  Stop here. I know I’m criticizing a live-action cartoon that delivers exactly what is intended, but bear with me.

Point 1:  Hobbs recruits Dom and a team of international criminals he set to take down in the last movie.  Why?  Because there needs to be a movie, not because he wouldn’t work with an actual military unit or strike force or… something like that.

Point 2: O’Connor decides to infiltrate a stateside prison as an inmate in order to get close to a former villain from the series who may have some information on what happened to Letty.  Why?  I don’t know actually.  This is the most idiotic development in the movie.  The mission would likely get O’Connor killed and it nearly does.  But the funny thing is that the information is of zero importance.  The characters already know where Letty is, have seen her and know that she is alive and likely has memory issues.  Torretto goes and finds her on his own before O’Connor even returns from his adventure.  Dom instructs his buddy to spare him the ‘vital information’ that was worth dying over.

Point 3:  For being the smartest villain in the room, Shaw is a moron.  He says he doesn’t care for his team members and finds them to be replaceable.  Except for Letty, the smart-mouth, authority-defying brain batter mess that generally serves little purpose for Shaw throughout the film.  Torretto offers to walk away from Shaw and leave him alone if he can have Letty back.  Shaw refuses.  Idiot.

Point 4: Torretto and Shaw, in multiple instances throughout the film, have a chance to take each other out either directly or through their cohorts.  They don’t take the shot.  Then there’s the back and forth of the heroes having Shaw and letting him go.  And having him and letting him go.  Dumb.

Fast and the Furious 6Point 5: The action has zero consequences and the cartoonish nature of the series removes any and all suspense or tension.  Multiple fistfights occur in this installment.  Heroes and villains bludgeon each other with nary a bruise or scratch.  At one point, Diesel’s character dives headfirst into the skull of any angry giant thug man and walks away unscathed.  As insane as the car stunts become, whether the heroes are facing off against tanks or airliners, the action reaches such high levels but rarely evokes actual danger.  Characters consistently fight through hell but never show injury until the final blow—if they do in fact die.

That’s where the series has really worn me out.  Bang bang boom, but no one gets hurt until they die.  This roadrunner-coyote cartoon chase only entertains for so long when there’s no suspense or actual imminent danger to the characters.  I know other PG-13 action films have dealt with the same problems, but none are as numb to reality as the Fast series, at least to my present knowledge.

Justin Lin has a balancing act with these films and he succeeds with a far more prominent and successful use of humor this time around, but there are simply too many characters and subplots to juggle at this point.  The action even suffers in terms of the different bobbing heads we are forced to jump back and forth with.  Do I commend the action?  Yes.  But somewhere down the line I became numb to it.  The F&F fans should rejoice, however, as this is probably a franchise high for them, even though I found it a step down from Part 5.  If you want bloodless carnage, mindless action, and by-the-numbers soap opera, then Fast 6 will serve you plenty.

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Fast Five

The Summer movie season has kicked off a week early with Fast Five, sneaking in the schedule a week ahead of Marvel’s ThorFast Five (for the uninitiated) is the fifth installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise—a series of films that at one point had lost its two leading stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.  Once both men needed career revivals two years ago, Justin Lin, the director of Tokyo Drift (the third installment) brought back Diesel and Walker for the most lucrative film in the franchise.  Now that it has been ten years since the original film debuted in 2001, I am shocked to find this franchise finding any relevancy in a busy market.  Look at how Scream 4 was recently burned alive.  But I suppose if you build a flick around macho guys, babes, fast cars, guns, and explosions, audiences will find it.

Fast Five picks up where Fast and Furious left off.  Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) has been convicted of his past run-ins with the law and is off to prison.  Do you think he gets there?  Neither did I.  Former Fed Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) take on a major rescue operation involving the rollover of a bus carrying the prisoners.  The team reunites in Rio for a heist of pricey sports cars.  The plan is ridiculous—torch the side of a train moving at 70 mph or so, align a moving loading ramp along the side, and drive the cars from inside the locomotive off the train via the ramp.  Unfortunately for the gang, the men they are working with have alternative plans, and the job goes sour.  Dom and Brian escape in one of the stolen cars (in a ridiculous physics-defying sequence) and soon realize they are in possession of a computerized microchip installed in the vehicle that has the personal accounting information of the notorious druglord they were pulling the job for—worth $100 million.  Dom sees this as an opportunity to pull off “one amazing last heist that will have him walk away from crime forever.”  Brian, having just realized he is a father-to-be with Mia, is down.  But they need to assemble a team, featuring a herd of F&F series veterans: Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Sung Kang, and others.  The band of thugs meet up in Rio to plot the smash-and-grab, but the stakes become greater as a Special Forces strike team led by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson—bulky and sweaty as ever) is on the trail of Torretto and O’Connor, and will do whatever it takes to bring them down.

If Fast Five is to be enjoyed, it can only be enjoyed as a cheesefest.  I still don’t know if I actually liked it, however, I can say I was entertained.  The series has been off and on for me, but it never quite works without Vin Diesel behind the wheel.  Luckily Justin Lin has decided to shift the series and turn it into a straightforward action franchise and shed much of the street racing antics.  We still get some of that, and several shiny autos, but F&F is now all bang-bang mayhem with lives at stake.  The action reminded me of Peter Berg film.  It’s gritty, intense, fast-moving, merciless—all the while in a PG-13 landscape.  A lot of people get brutally killed in Fast Five, but there is little-to-no bloodshed to be seen.  The ‘heroes’ continually manage to narrowly escape being hurt or killed as bands of assault-rifle wielding good guys and bag guys pursue them, so much so that it doesn’t take long for them to mirror a pack of roadrunners being chased by a bunch of witless coyotes.  The mano-a-mano brawl between Diesel and Johnson (soon to be infamous) has them bludgeoning each other to pulps, but there is hardly  a blood drop, and by the next scene they are just fine.  I picture these two freight trains crashing into each other in a very impressive and violent duel, and walking away without a dent.  It doesn’t make sense at all.  But, hey, the franchise wouldn’t sell as an R-rated film.

In the end, Lin’s film is a walking vegetable.  It may be completely brain-dead, but it sure has a pulse.  Luckily the man knows how to stage action sequences and film them in such a way that the audience can comprehend what is going on and to whom it’s happening.  I appreciate a visual style that makes sense in a market so influenced by those Jason Bourne films.  Granted, the action in Fast Five is completely impossible—and I won’t dare to spoil the outrageous howlers of sequences boiling over in this installment—but at least you can follow it and appreciate it as an over-the-top exercise in macho excess.  Diesel and Johnson bring charisma and presence to the table and ultimately make this movie, one that’s about 20 minutes too long and full of actors meant to ‘function’ rather than ‘act.’  So if you’re in for some hich-octane stupidity, constant eight-word catchphrases, and a series that is now dangerously becoming the next Saw franchise in terms of re-appearing characters and loosely connected plot threads across the previous installments, then Fast Five is exactly what you’re looking for in mindless entertainment.

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