(by Dustin Putman
Woe, to ponder the quainter days of 2001's "The Fast and the Furious," an in-and-out, down-and-dirty, to-the-point, 105-minute action movie starring that exciting "Pitch Black" actor Vin Diesel and "She's All That" heartthrob Paul Walker. With few airs about trying to be more than it was, the picture did its business and got out while the getting was good, telling the fast-paced story of an LAPD officer going undercover to infiltrate an underground car-racing gang who hijack trucks on the side. Five sequels later, this unlikely series shows no signs of slowing down (a Part 7 is already due out next year, in 2014). Ironically, as its popularity has increased, its budgets have skyrocketed, and its releases have moved ever-closer to the summertime, the films themselves have become highfalutin, bloated, and no longer particularly fun. Despite being larger in scope, 2011's "Fast Five" and now "Fast & Furious 6" have somehow become slack, drawn-out studies in how much patience audiences have. Running a needlessly exorbitant 130 minutes, one must sit through 90 full minutes of macho posturing, moronic dialogue, and virtual dead air before the first halfway memorable action set-piece arrives. From there, things finally take off, but the diverting third act is not enough to make up for the endurance test of the first two. Article continues below
Having made off with $100-million dollars from a Rio de Janeiro heist, U.S. outlaws Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), buddy Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), and Dom's sister/Brian's girl Mia (Jordana Brewster) have relocated to the Canary Islands in Spain to raise Brian's and Mia's newborn son. When Federal Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) tracks them down, he agrees to pardon them and their entire old gang—among them, Tokyo-based couple Giselle (Gal Gadot) and Han (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges)—if they help him stop former Special Ops soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), currently building a catastrophic tech bomb worth billions. Were that not enough, Hobbs has photographic evidence that Dom's thought-dead love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is not only alive and well, but working for Shaw.
The fourth consecutive "Fast & Furious" film from director Justin Lin (2006's "Annapolis") and screenwriter Chris Morgan (2008's "Wanted")—the thought of Morgan actually sitting at a computer and typing scripts up for these movies is enough to tickle—"Fast & Furious 6" plays like an overly familiar redux of "Fast Five," right down to compiling their crackerjack team of thieves, standing around for an hour as the minimal plot spins its wheels, and finally getting around to allowing something to happen in time for the last half-hour. In "Fast Five," that included the careless, swept-under-the-rug deaths of numerous innocents, whereas here—an admittedly technically stunning sequence involving racing cars and a cargo plane zooming down an apparently 10-mile-long runway—the only casualties are involved principal characters. The same, sadly, can't be said for an earlier scene where the gang try to intercept Shaw's military convoy on a busy highway bridge, but because flagging viewer interest at long last jolts to life during this set-piece (and comes equipped with a ludicrously crowd-pleasing moment where Dom saves Letty from certain death as both are catapulted through the air), one must be thankful for small favors, the marginalization of human life be damned.
The returning ensemble have long settled into their stock roles, and judging by the amount of money they're making off this franchise it's no wonder they keep returning to the same well. What cannot quite be veiled is their increasing weariness. Vin Diesel (2008's "Babylon A.D.") and, most prominently, Paul Walker (2006's "Running Scared") look tired and unfulfilled as they move through the paces. As Mia, Jordana Brewster (2006's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning") is MIA with a baby for a sizable segment of the film until she finally gets in on the action by the end. It's just as well. Michelle Rodriguez (2012's "Resident Evil: Retribution") makes a welcome return as Letty, for all intents and purposes coming back from the dead with a troublesome case of amnesia, but her reunion with Dom is missing the expected sentimentality and emotion. Then again, dramatic weight in a "Fast & Furious" flick is roughly equal to a "Scary Movie" sequel.
"Ride or die!" Dom and Brian say to each other as the climax of "Fast & Furious 6" gets underway, a mantra that doesn't particularly make sense (if they never rode, they'd probably be a whole lot safer). Then again, when have these movies used logic? As long as there are fast cars, crushing metal, big-muscled guys with a lifetime supply of baby oil, and at least one shot of big booties shaking at the screen, the target audience is predisposed to be satisfied. The trouble with "Fast & Furious 6" is that, by now, is it wrong to expect more? If the budgets keep getting higher, shouldn't the makers be trying to outdo themselves and put on the screen a non-stop thrill ride in cinematic form? Why is there so much meandering down time? Why are there long—and I do mean looooong—portions of inert stasis? When, in the final scene, the characters—characters who have robbed, stolen, and killed to get ahead—gather around to say grace, it's laughable, revealing them to be hypocrites in addition to everything else. If any of these lunkheads are religious, they desperately should have rethought their paths in life.