I’ll be the first to admit I hate sequels. I really hate when filmmakers decide to make trilogies. They’re always watered down attempts at recreating the success, thrill and excitement of the first installment – most, in my eyes, usually fail miserably. Do we remember Free Willy 2 and 3? Exactly, you shouldn’t.
So, needless to say, you can guess how I felt about walking in to the theater to catch the sixth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise – it was anything but complimentary. That was until I sat back, buckled myself in and felt the throttle of adrenaline pulse through me like I was behind the wheel of a twin-turbo V8 BMW 5 series, ripping through the streets of downtown London.
Director Justin Lin returns to the helm to direct “Furious 6”, the name that flanks the big screen when the film opens. The movie opens with international criminal, notorious bad a** and street racer Dom Toretto, played by the intimidating Vin Diesel, his girlfriend Elena (Elsa Pataky), Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Mia’s husband, former good-cop-gone-bad, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) living the good life in the Canary Islands, relishing in the riches of their last big Brazilian bank job from “Fast Five” and avoiding extradition from worldwide agencies.
The first heart-racing car scene isn’t buried in the plot and happens right away, changing the minds of anyone who might have gotten up to grab popcorn during the opening credits. O’Conner is behind the wheel of a stunningly sleek, nas-tuned Nissan Skyline GTR while Toretto goes American vintage-muscle-turned-modern in a rebirthed onyx black Dodge Charger SRT – both vehicles pump out enough ponies to take on the likes of NASCAR. O’Conner and Toretto race along a narrow, two-lane road literally on the side of an enormous cliff – the Skyline overtakes the Charger, then pulls back to on-coming traffic only to shift down again to propel past the American muscled Charger. Quick switchbacks, one-lane underpasses and missing guard rails add to the already intense, mind boggling speed these two former nemeses are laying down. They whip their two-ton steeds into a small parking lot where three nuns await them – it’s a hospital and we quickly learn O’Conner’s wife, Mia, is in labor with their first child, Jack. Whoever said an ambulance was the quickest way to a hospital surely hasn’t met this team of daredevils.
Fortunately, for the sake of the plot and having any movie at all, their bliss comes to an abrupt end when federal agent Luke Hobbs, played by the contemporary Herculean hero, Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson, shows up with an offer that Toretto and O’Conner can’t refuse. Hobbs has been on a worldwide manhunt for Toretto and his family of high-stakes thieves ever since “Fast Five” – now, he needs their help in taking down international outlaw Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), whose own team of highly skilled gangsters have stolen components to a device that threatens all of humanity. The fact that one of Shaw’s henchmen appears to be Toretto’s old girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) – a character thought to have been killed two movies ago in “Fast & Furious” – compels Toretto and his gang out of retirement to rescue her. Hobbs promises the team federal pardons and immunities in exchange for their help in eliminating the elusive Shaw.
Nabbing Shaw means Toretto and O’Conner must put the old band back together, so Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang), Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are all called in from their respective exiles to pitch in for one last heist. One of the film’s more comedic characters, Roman, constantly cracks jokes and delivers some pretty good one-liners that keep the audience swinging on a metaphorical pendulum from the-edge-of-your-seat intensity to doubled-over-laughter – for a sixth installment of a car franchise, writer Chris Morgan surely did a heck of a job.
I am huge car fan, an avid Motortrend or CAR & DRIVER reader, and found that Furious 6 100% satisfied my thirst for rubber screeching fury – I didn’t want more and I didn’t want any less. I found the film to be nearly perfectly balanced between the inevitable Hollywood love interest, street races, comedic relief, tough-as-nails muscle and elusive lifestyle of an international crime firm – at times, I rooted for the bad guy. At others, I thought he should be shot point blank by Hobbs’ rifle. That, to me, is great writing – when a screenwriter can take your emotions and place them where he wants them to be. It was definitely an unexpected feeling.
There’s a lot of running around regarding the alleged McGuffin device that Shaw and his team want to consolidate so he can execute his plan of destruction. But, as true F & F fans know and have come to expect, that’s not what Lin’s latest film is really about. It’s really about driving exceedingly fast through Picadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square in downtown London, zipping along Spanish expressways while being shot at by a tank manned by Shaw and his team, and pulling off insane jumps, leaps and bounds that are so unbelievable at times (like when Vin Diesel jumps across a bridge gap to meet tank-tossed Letty mid-air and propel them both back to the other side of the bridge to safety), it makes the audience “LOL” out of sheer inability to believe it could ever happen.
But, regardless of how unbelievable some of the action shots are, Lin and his team of editors, cinematographers and producers do an excellent job, in my opinion, of staging the ever-escalating action sequences that culminate in a mouth-open-hands-clenched-to-your-arm-rests finale involving Range Rovers, Alfa Romeos, Mercedes-Benzes and other four-wheeled speedsters in and around a cargo plane that’s trying to take off with Shaw inside. This scene goes on forever, which is truly my only critique of the film as the runway would have had to have been 100 miles long in order for this scene to be anywhere near realistic.
Some of the better parts of the film were not at all tied to torque, speed or horsepower. Getting to see Hobbs’ female agent partner and Letty (who lost all memory of Toretto and now works for Shaw) go mano-a-mano on two different occasions made me yell out in support, a collective “OOOHHHH” from the audience when a good hit, punch or leg-drop was thrown. There’s just something so compelling and totally captivating about two female combatants taking it out on each other – the sound of body slams, arms crashing together and heads banging against a cement wall. Intense, yes; unnecessary, I say, “no way”.
When the sounds of heavy exhaust and the clash of 5th shifting to 6th die down, and people actually talk, the theme of family is constantly mentioned. Nonetheless, while Diesel and Walker, along with Gibson and Ludacris, have fairly limited abilities as actors, they thrive in Furious 6. And rightfully so; at six movies in, I think they’ve definitely established themselves and their co-stars as a cohesive unit capable of dragging out the huge success of the first F & F nearly a decade ago.
Through a well-developed storyline that was just simple enough to follow, a plethora of intense, action-packed car scenes and incredible chemistry and dynamic among the stars of the film, “Fast & Furious 6″ serves up a big plate of steaming entertainment. Lin and his crew never pretend it’s a gourmet meal atop one of Mount Washington’s elite eateries, but they’re more than happy to offer up a big fat sandwich with coleslaw, fries piled high and a touch of spicy dressing.