Friday, May 24, 2013

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are set for life.  The Rio de Janeiro heist has afforded them a very early retirement.  They plan to live out the rest of their days in comfortable anonymity, while the rest of their crew live it up abroad.  Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) descends on this new found paradise like a dark cloud.  However, brings a tempting propostion to Dominic.  International heist master Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and team of specialists have pulled off one brazen and elaborate heist after another.  They are gearing up for their biggest job yet.  Hobbs desperately needs to stop them.  In exchange for Dominic’s help, Hobbs offers him the one thing money can’t buy.  With full tanks full of gasoline and nitrous oxide at the ready, Dom and company rev their engines for another mission.

Fast & Furious 6 is, obviously, the sixth entry in the twelve year old franchise.  Director Justin Lin has returned to the mechanics table for a fourth and final helping.  The main cast has likewise returned, though maybe not for the last time.  The requisite levels of action have been adequately ramped up.  The stunts are bigger, and the feeling of escalation remains perpetual.  However, where does Fast 6 rank among its predecessors?  Will it take first place?

The Fast & Furious series was inspired by a Vibe magazine article about street racing.  In keeping with that sentiment, the films have always been about two things: Fabulous cars engaged in breathless car chases.  Note that subtlety and complexity don’t factor into that equation.  Boys and their toys take precedence all else.  That aesthetic has gone through a number of variations over the years.  Justin Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon have developed a definitive formula.  They also reveal a bit of dexterity as to how they apply it.  Fast 5 reveled in the candy colored, sun blocked gloss of Rio de Janeiro.  Fast 6 is a veritable Black ops mission by comparison.  Many scenes take place under the cover of night.

To say that Fast 6 keeps the action coming is an understatement.  Under Justin Lin’s watch, the series has become a traveling vehicular circus that continues to top itself with every visit.  The set pieces are impenetrably complex, to the point of organized chaos.  The finale, which takes place on a military base runway, is ballsy in its conception.  Yet, for all the fireworks on display, Fast 6 feels slightly smaller in scope than Fast 5.  That could be due raucous party atmosphere of the latter.  It could also be due to the execution of certain set pieces.  Justin Lin makes a number of concessions to “chaos cinema.” However, during the aforementioned finale, the seams begin to show.  The nighttime setting renders it somewhat incoherent.  Still, there are some very nice touches.  The Rock gets to use some vintage WWE moves that will have fans cheering in the isles.

The continuity (And I use that term loosely) of the franchise became an absolute joke with the lackluster fourth entry.  That’s never been much of a problem, as the series’ lack of pretense has always been its saving grace.  However, that quality has been gradually diminishing since Justin Lin came on board.  One of his many contributions has been to turn the series into a soap opera.  This time, for some as yet undisclosed reason, he and screenwriter Chris Morgan want the audience to take all of the melodrama seriously.   Though Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) amnesic subplot is utterly ridiculous, the theme of duality is interesting.  The members of Shaw’s crew serve as doppelgängers for those in Dominic’s crew.  The leaders are both family men to varying degrees.  That conflict is far more compelling than anything going on with Letty.    Still, a good portion of the second act is devoted to her and Dominic.  That distracts from the film’s main selling points: Cars and action.

The characters remain as likeable as ever.  As Always, Dwayne Johnson is simply begging for his very own action franchise.  With a pair of amazingly vascular, mountainous biceps and a neck like an oak tree, he’s a melanin coated Übermensch.  It’s as if someone sprinkled fairy dust on an Ed McGuiness drawing.  Someday, this guy will take his rightful place alongside Stallone and Schwarzenegger.  He’s got far superior acting chops than either of those guys.   

As Dominic famously said in the original film, “Ask any racer, any real racer. It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning's winning.” Fast 6 achieves a photo finish alongside its immediate predecessor, but misses by just a hair.  A hard won silver medal is definitely nothing to sneeze at.  If nothing else, Fast 6 has confirmed something I realized at the end of Fast 5: This series has been the most dependable of its kind for over a decade now.  That being said, Justin Lin has the right idea.  Better to put the Ferrari back in the garage while there’s still gas in the tank.  Racing on fumes is a death sentence.