Plot, logic and any and all known laws of physics are but specks in the rear view mirror, in the sixth, best and easily most ridiculous lap (so far at least) in the Fast and Furious saga. Slipping into the driver’s seat once more are Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, reprising their roles as street-smart underground-racer Dominic Toretto and FBI agent turned accomplice Brian O’Connor, respectively. Together, they’re the non-conventional parents at the head of a mixed-race family of gold-hearted street racers, whose adventures have taken them from the back-roads of Los Angeles to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, pulling in more than two-billion in global box-office along the way. Continuing the upward trend seen in the unexpectedly well crafted Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 is souped-up action filmmaking at its most unabashedly entertaining.
A big part of the series’ enduring success lies with director Justin Lin, at wheel since Tokyo Drift in ’06. In his hands, the franchise has shed the skin of the original (a sub-par, absurdly self-serious Point Break knock-off) and evolved into the knowingly over-the-top, adrenaline fuelled heist films that come racing into theatres today. Along the way, he’s assembled what is surely the most ethnically diverse cast in the history of action cinema (a factor, no doubt, in the series’ popularity internationally), while also constructing an ever expanding canon of recurring characters and cross-over plot points for diehard fans to devour.
Case in point, the story of the latest film surrounds the revelation that Toretto’s former lover Letty Ortiz (Michele Rodriguez) has been recruited by a gang of British criminals hijacking military convoys in Europe, despite supposedly dying some two full movies earlier. Parroting the series’ overarching anthem about the importance of family, Dom calls on the rest of his motor-headed brethren (Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang and Gal Gadot) and hops to pond to London. There, the crew are met by DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the bulky antagonist of Fast Five, who has agreed to grant them a pardon for their past crimes, on the condition that they help bring Letty’s ruthless employer (Luke Evans) to justice.
Of course, the percentage of viewers that actually care about the overarching Fast and Furious mythos is probably pretty small. Hell, whether these films even need a story is sort of debatable; if the cheers and shouts of my worked up audience are anything to go by, people buy a ticket to this series for one thing and one thing only: balls to the wall automotive action. On that front, Lin and company well and truly deliver. Although nocturnal settings are occasionally an obstacle, smart editing and steady photography ensure that we’re well aware of the geography of each set-piece, which include a skirmish with a low to the ground, F1 style armoured vehicle capable of catapulting cars into the air, and a perilous muscle-car versus tank pursuit down the middle of a busy Spanish freeway.
The non-car oriented action scenes are similarly thrilling, particularly when they involve MMA fighter turned actress Gina Carano (star of last year’s low-key action masterwork Haywire), playing Hobbs’ arse-kicking second in command. But the preposterous piece de resistance comes in the climax: a high-speed chase down what is apparently the world’s single longest runway, in which Toretto et al. must tether their cars to a cargo jet in order to prevent the villains from escaping. With no less than six different points of action occurring simultaneously, the sequence is executed superbly, characterising (and outdoing) the relentless speed and sense-defying audacity that makes the entire silly enterprise so much fun.
And make no mistake: this film is extraordinarily silly. But unlike the early entries in the series, plagued by delusions of gravitas and grit, Fast & Furious 6 knows exactly how ludicrous it is. The machismo here is tinged with humour, with Lin making the most of his cast’s considerable bromantic chemistry in the lulls between the chases and pileups. Unsurprisingly, the weakest parts of the movie are those that deal most heavily in plot; the explanation behind Letty’s resurrection and subsequent allegiance switch is one of the stupidest in the book, while a tangent that sees Walker’s O’Brian go undercover in a Californian prison to extract information from a foe is a major and unnecessary momentum killer.
Still, those willing to overlook the narrative potholes should have a blast with Lin’s latest. The action is thrilling and plentiful, while the themes (about family, honour and the significance of home) are simple but dopily charming. The ending seems to bring the story of the Toretto clan full circle, and a fitting conclusion it would be. That is, until a mind-blowing mid-credits stinger, one that promises plenty more vehicular mayhem yet to come.