Friday, April 18, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Fast & Furious 6′: Accelerating nicely

“Fast & Furious 6″

3.5 stars

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang, Jordana Brewster, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Gal Gadot

Rating: PG-13, and somewhat generously, for intense and relentless violence, action and mayhem, along with occasional profanity and sensuality

Gear-grinding franchise still delivers a high-octane blend of thrills and humor

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

Longest…

…airport…

…runway…

ever.

The “Fast & Furious” series has long been known for physics-defying stunts that strain credibility, while nonetheless inspiring well-deserved admiration for the way so many of these crazy chases and assorted skirmishes look (somewhat) authentic, as opposed to the obvious fakery of computer-enhanced sweetening. (Make no mistake: CGI plays an important role in these films, but much of the driving is real.)

Even by those standards, however, “Fast & Furious 6” boasts audacious, jaw-dropping set-pieces that are just plain nuts.

But they’re also tautly edited, reasonably suspenseful and quite entertaining. As comic book movies go, this series delivers ingenious thrills … even if they are guaranteed to make mechanical and aerospace engineers snort with laughter.

Director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan deserve considerable credit. They’ve collaborated on four of these films now — all but the first two — and they have the formula down cold. Take an ever-expanding “family” of familiar characters, grant them plenty of interactive banter, season with vehicular chases every 15 minutes or so, and blend with aggressive punching matches between good guys and bad guys, usually one on one, but sometimes two on two.

Toss in a James Bondian “head villain” with an equally malevolent sidekick, spice with babe shots — because under-dressed women are such an essential part of street-racing — and call it a movie.

And yes, before you ask: Morgan already is scripting “Fast & Furious 7” for new director James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”), which will add Jason Statham to the mix when it roars into theaters next summer.

It’s all absolute and utter nonsense, but thrilling and adrenaline-pumping nonetheless. No doubt responding to demands for bigger and better, Lin and Morgan have customized “6” with road-rage chases involving all manner of souped-up cars, not to mention a tank and a massive Antonov 124 cargo plane (!).

And yes, the latter eye-widening melee, during which half a dozen four-wheeled vehicles try to prevent said plane from lifting off, occupies 15 climactic minutes, during which the accelerating plane magically never runs out of runway.

Heck, even allowing for the cross-cutting needed to show simultaneous action on the ground and inside the plane, I figure that runway must’ve stretched at least 20 miles. Land must be cheap in Spain.

Lin gets plenty of capable help from cinematographer Stephen F. Windon and editors Christian Wagner and Kelly Matsumoto, all series veterans; they definitely make a winning team. One also has to smile at the massive thunk sound designer Peter Brown inserts, every time a racing driver shifts up or down. This may be popcorn nonsense, but it’s slickly made nonsense.

With previous entries having exhausted locations in Los Angeles, Miami, Tokyo, Mexico and Rio de Janeiro, this time the action is based in the UK — London, Liverpool and Glasgow — with a few supposed visits to Spain (actually, studio work).

Following their successful heist in “5,” our crew of anti-heroes has settled around the world. Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are new parents in the Canary Islands, with Dom (Vin Diesel) and Elena (Elsa Pataky) living close by. Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) are enjoying Hong Kong; Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is in Costa Rica; and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) jets to exotic locales when the mood strikes.

All concerned are saved from succumbing to boredom when tough-as-nails federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) confronts Dom with an assignment he literally cannot refuse. A paramilitary-trained criminal mastermind — Luke Evans, as Shaw — has been committing high-profile thefts throughout Europe, aided by a most unlikely sidekick: Dom’s former main squeeze, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

The so-called plot here is incidental and perfunctory: Shaw needs to steal a whatzis — in order to combine it with other whatzises (whatzi?) he stole earlier, before this movie started — so that he can build a vile thingamajig capable of knocking out the electrical and computer grids of an entire country, which obviously would be a valuable item to have, were a neighboring hostile government planning to invade.

Because Shaw has accomplished his earlier heists with a team of skilled drivers, Hobbs decides to fight turbo-charged fire with more of the same, and hence our team is reassembled once again.

One must take attempts at “serious dialogue” with a grain of salt, as when Mia “understands” that Brian must join the gang, despite his earlier promise to settle down and be a sedentary doting father. Morgan fills such moments with howler lines such as “This is what we do,” and of course that’s all the explanation we get.

But, then, we don’t watch these films for credible relationship dynamics; we really just want sight gags, droll one-liners and wry double-takes.

But only in between action shots starring a Who’s Who of new and old American and European muscle cars: a 1969 Dodge Daytona (Dom), a 1971 Mark 1 Ford Escort (Brian), a 1970 Jensen Interceptor (Letty), a 2002 Enzo Ferrari (Tej) … not to mention a few motorcycles — a Harley (Han) and a Ducati Monster (Gisele) — not to mention a lethal “flip car” and even a 2012 Aston Martin DB9 (Shaw, who apparently stole it from James Bond).

The highest-profile human newcomer is mixed martial arts fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano, who turns up as Riley, Hobbs’ second-in-command. Carano might be remembered from her starring turn in director Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 spy thriller, “Haywire,” but I must note that, two years further along, the term “actress” remains generous. Carano gets her lines out, but she hasn’t a shred of the easy, jocular presence displayed so effortlessly by everybody else.

And that’s what it comes down to. Even the best-choreographed car chases would pale, if we weren’t enjoying the characters. Bridges and Gibson are a hoot as Tej and Roman, and I still chuckle at the veiled-brow, don’t-mess-with-me intensity that Diesel gives even an innocuous line, such as “Pass the salt.”

Johnson continues his equally engaging, action-hero ascent, and his scenes with Diesel — Dom and Hobbs have a prickly relationship, at best — are quite droll. Rodriguez remains the baddest girl on the planet, with a sneer that could freeze blood at 50 yards, and Gadot is a spunky, perky yin to the yang of Kang’s more serious Han.

At 130 minutes, “Fast & Furious 6” is one car chase too long; the third act, in particular, flirts with overkill. And speaking of that, I didn’t appreciate the casual collateral damage inflicted on scores of innocent civilians who get crushed — inside their cars — during the tank sequence. That’s needlessly, unpleasantly callous for this sort of lighthearted fare, and certainly not funny, although Lin obviously stages the scene as if expecting laughs.

All the “Fast & Furious” flicks probably qualify as guilty pleasures, at best, but I can’t ignore the formula that keeps me coming back for more … particularly now that Morgan’s post-credit bit in this film seems to have “caught up” with “Tokyo Drift,” therefore granting Dom & Co. the opportunity, in next summer’s “7,” to seek some anger-fueled vengeance.

Meanwhile, “6” is guaranteed several victory laps at the box office.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

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