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 & Furious 6

Well, it has been only a couple years since the last Fast & Furious installment, but Vin Diesel and company are back with a vengeance for the sixth (and not the last) time.  The only logical question for moviegoers is “has this Universal Pictures cash cow run its course?” After sitting through 130 minutes of pure unadulterated action, the only logical answer has to be, “not yet.”

fast and furiousJustin Lin is once again at the helm directing the massive amounts of fast cars and fantastical stunts the series has become known for. Both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reprise their roles as the street-racing buddy duo of Dominic Torretto and Brian O’Connor. The Fast & Furious rat pack of Tyrese Gibson, former rapper Ludacris, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot are also back to lend their expertise. And let us not forget the exploits of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, whose presence seemed to breathe some steroid-infused life back into series. This band of “heroes” is at it again attempting to stop the evil villain, Shaw (Luke Evans), whose evil plan is to steal the aptly named “components” to build something to sell to some bad guys for lots of money. Yeah, I don’t think the writers really cared about the whole plot thing either. The only thing you really need to know is that he has a master plan that will inevitably involve copious amounts of cars and carnage. Oh, and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) is somehow back from the dead despite assurances of her death and a funeral involving a body that was presumably identified by a licensed medical examiner.

I will quickly apologize if the brief synopsis implies a less than enjoyable movie, because the outcome is the pure opposite. There may not exist a more fun and action-packed movie this summer. No, this movie will never win any awards or be praised for its acting performances, but that isn’t and shouldn’t be the point. It seems that the script writers have fully embraced the sort of self-parody that is needed to make these films enjoyable. There are plenty of extremely humorous one-liners, many intended with a few not, and the action never stops. The pacing is very good and the action sequences are well done. Will there be times when you sit there and stare, mouth agape, at the completely unrealistic action sequence? Of course, but that only enhances the absurdity, and therefore, fun of this movie.

A movie like this is all about the specific expectations that one has going into it. This movie has a lot to offer both the cinephile and casual moviegoer if expectations of character and plot development are tempered while enjoying the exhilarating ride (pun intended). Fast & Furious 6 is a great way to spend some money if you enjoy popcorn-filled escapism amidst the increasing temperatures of the North American summer months. The best film in the hexology only fills me with hope that next movies will continue the trend.


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Battle: Los Angeles

When will Hollywood filmmakers learn how to design an engaging extra-terrestrial?  I sat through the entirety of Battle: Los Angeles wondering why the movie was even made if the creatures the film is to be about seemed as though they were cobbled together on the last day of post-production.  Even good science-fiction films feature hokey creatures, such as Signs and War of the Worlds, but with practically limitless technology these days, why resort to such lacking creativity?  And why start out a film critique bashing alien designs?  Because the sheer laziness and lack of imagination brought to the table when considering the science-fiction elements on display here ruined Battle: Los Angeles.

I’m sad to report that Jonathan Liebsman’s stab at the alien invasion epic is an otherwise interesting (although one-note) piece of filmmaking.  Blending Black Hawk Down and War of the Worlds, Liebsman drops us into Ground Zero with a group of confused marines sent into the battleground of Los Angeles following a barely announced invasion circling the globe.  I call it Call of Duty: Worlds at War.  Aaron Eckhart, featuring a full face once again, leads his platoon of one-note soldiers into a combat zone that would have Michael Bay and Sylvester Stallone drowning in envy.  There’s a handful of characters here, but the film has precious little time for back story.  Minutes into this thing the audience is dodging shrapnel and ducking under the smoke clouds.  This is a combat film, through and through, filmed via handheld and edited to make your head spin.

So what’s the mission?  Honestly, there isn’t much of one.  The marines are choppered to the L.A. police station to rescue a group of civilians trapped inside.  From there on out, it’s moving from point A to point B avoiding deadly fire from the outer-space hostiles.  Never mind why the aliens are invading with violence.  We hear a few news clips claiming they are harvesting our planet for water.  Also never mind that their biological composition makes little to no sense.  Part machine, part creature of some sort, they look cheap and biologically improbable to function.  In a head-scratching scene, Eckhart’s character and a veterinarian dissect one of their captured enemies to figure out how to kill it.  To their surprise, the alien has a heart in its chest.  “Aim for the heart!” he cries.  It seemed to me the marines were blowing them in half from the get-go, but maybe that’s just me.  Don’t ask me about the aliens’ spacecrafts either.  From what I can tell, the filmmakers haven’t any more of a clue than I do.  The ships seem like C.G.I. whirlwinds of car parts that can disassemble into smaller aerial drone planes.  There’s no sensible design or calculations to these vehicles.  I’m guessing the artists behind them saw Transformers one too many times and decided to dumb down the concept there.

Battle: Los Angeles clearly left storytelling and imagination out of the greenlighting contract as well.  Cliches abound in the premise and reign supreme throughout.  We have a gruff leader in Eckhart, whose character battles his haunting past amidst the haunting present.  He’s retiring early on in the film after losing his entire unit of men during his last mission.  For his final day on the job, he is supposed to play second-in-command to another officer for a training simulation.  Turns out aliens invade and he’ll have to take on the greatest threat of his career.  Weird.  The plan to thwart the aliens involves taking out their system core that holds their entire power source.  Also original.  Even the minimal dialogue appears to be peeled away from other films.  At least the pyrotechnics are sound, and to be honest, that’s what the film is all about—getting in-your-face visceral.

For a quick action-fix, Battle: Los Angeles will in no way compare to a classic like Aliens (a far-superior clashing of alien creatures and marines—made 25 years ago…), but it will likely tide over young men who have no problem putting down their X-Box controllers to witness some more first-person shooter mayhem.  Complaints regarding the film playing like a kaboom-heavy videogame aren’t far from the truth.  Battle: Los Angeles isn’t striving for good sci-fi.  It’s striving for gritty target practice.  I actually dug the concept of a military action-thriller as the forefront of an alien invasion film.  Unfortunately, while all the technical aspects and extended action sequences of Battle: LA prevail, the aliens and plot do not.  I can shoot second-rate animated robot slugs at home.  For those needing a break from that sort of time-wasting, Jonathan Liebsman’s bone-crunching, ear-drum pounding, brain-thumping epic will do.  And you don’t even need a controller, unless you wait for it on DVD of course.

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Mr. Robert Rodriguez dispenses his disposable grindhouse cinema upon us once again.  Don’t take that as a rip on the man.  As one of the few filmmakers allowed to take a film and design it from concept to execution, making it completely and utterly as he sees it, I commend him on all of his accomplishments.  He’s a fanboy movie-lover making fanboys all over the world jump for joy.  With Sin City and From Dusk Til Dawn, he’s proven himself a filmmaker in a distinct class of his own, even while turning his head to make Spy Kids movies for the youngsters.  Machete, the extended feature-length trailer to compliment his ‘fake trailer’ used in his and Tarantino’s Grindhouse experiment three years ago, turns out to be one of the goofiest action movies to approach self-parody without being a full-blown spoof on the genre.

Most comparable to the shoddy, bloody and dumb fun of Shoot Em Up, Rodriguez and his co-director Ethan Maniquis do not restrain from any of their most remote sensibilities in turning Machete into a cheese-fest, throwing everything that can spray blood and produce laughter at the screen.  It feels the only approach they saw to this Mexican revenge saga was to take it as a great big in-joke comedy.  For those expecting Death Wish or Man on Fire, look elsewhere.  Rodriguez and Maniquis bring Machete to the screen for actors like Robert DeNiro, Jeff Fahey, Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Alba—giving them ample opportunity to ham it up as much as they can.  They seem to be having fun, so I suppose we should too.

Machete, starring typical villain Danny Trejo at age 66 as the title character, is on a mission for revenge.  As a former federal agent working for the U.S., he opens the film betrayed and left for dead following a rescue operation that results in a crime boss (Steven Seagal) taking the lives of his wife and daughter.  Failing to learn from his mistakes, he hides out along the border of Mexico and takes a job of assassinating Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) in an effort to prevent him from constructing a wall that will separate the U.S. and Mexico.  Could it be that the assassination is a major setup for Machete, and that his employers turn him into a target?  Now with every lawman looking for his head, Machete must dodge death continuously and succeeds in doing so (simply because he’s that guy that won’t die).  With the help of an underground immigrant smuggler (Michelle Rodriguez), another federal agent (Jessica Alba), and his own brother—a priest with an arsenal of weaponry (Cheech Marin), Machete brings the fight to Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) and his adviser (Fahey) that hired him.  Oh, and everyone that has ever wronged him must pay too.

Nonsensical cutthroat violence culminates most of Rodriguez’s campy exploitation film, a prime B-movie belonging in a second Grindhouse feature.   The filmmaker even recycles clips from his original 2007 trailer and incorporates them into the movie—that was actually a nice touch.  The enjoyment of the film rests solely on what an audience is looking for.  I think it will work strictly for the Rodriguez fanbase, and all others need not apply.  I enjoyed it for what it was.  Rarely would an audience be treated to a film that throws Steven Seagal, Robert DeNiro, and Lindsay Lohan together.  That is all Machete is: a barrage of talent from all levels thrown into a campy thriller where an antihero with the face of Trejo can get the girls, kill the bad guys, and stick a thorn into illegal immigration.  Machete knows it is pure trash and flaunts it.    By the end, the movie sinks (or rises) to Monty Python-level hilarity in a scene pitting the aging Seagal against the aging Trejo.  Mr. Seagal, in all his years, has never seen better days on screen, giving us the film’s most bizarre moment.  However, we are meant to indulge in it and enjoy the stupidity, as with the entire movie.  Taking any single frame seriously would be a slap in the face to the filmmakers.

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