Give Them a Reason to Stay: Justin Lin’s FAST & FURIOUS 6

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Review originally posted at Movie Knight, here.

It’s hard to stay objective or be overly critical about certain kinds of films. Some movies are so flat out uninterested in being traditionally (and often times claustrophobically) “good” that they somehow transcend the usual evaluative criteria and become something more.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 is not one of those transcendental films. Unlike its predecessor – which reached that rare, awesome place where things get so goofy and dumb that things magically transform into sheer joy – the sixth entry in this unstoppable, car-racing-gone-heist-film franchise feels lifeless, soulless and bereft of all the fun that it had accumulated over the last few years.

Here, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are dragged once more back into the game by the eternally-sweaty Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Hobbs suggests the possibility of complete exoneration if our dream-team can help him take down the best racing squad / criminal organization since, well, our dream team. There’s only one catch: it turns out that Toretto’s old flame, Leddy (Michelle Rodriguez), is not quite as dead as they’d once supposed – and she’s playing for the other side.

Director-and-writer combo Justin Lin & Chris Morgan return for one more go around the track (my only car pun – I promise), now in their third straight collaboration on the franchise, and the fourth entry for Lin. By this point, they seem to have nailed the formula down to a science, and it certainly shows – everything about this film feels like a repeat of what has come before, a grab bag of early-day street races and latter-day heists. Toretto is still waxing philosophically about the importance of family. Characters are still hopping into cars for a friendly race down the street for no real reason other than audience nostalgia. And Johnson still constantly looks like he just came out of the pool.

At this point, it’s worth noting that for many people, all of those things are exactly what they want out of this franchise. The trouble is, watching Johnson fly through the air and punch somebody in the face is much less entertaining the seventeenth time you’ve seen it happen. It’s worth a chuckle, sure, but it won’t have you cheering and roaring with laughter the way it did in the last film. This film is all punchline and no setup, because the filmmakers know that they already have a built-in audience – one who, they seem to think, responds more to the big explosion than the ticking bomb.

Still, the movie isn’t a complete train-wreck, by any means. It’s just also not particularly entertaining or enjoyable either. And that’s a big problem, considering how much good will was built up with the refreshing, over-the-top pleasure that was FAST FIVE. Whereas that film had a firm self-awareness and breakneck pacing, SIX meanders along, inserting unrelated or unremarkable set pieces and plot points just for the sake of dragging up old characters, situations and plot threads – most of which are seemingly tossed in without any real effort or thought. You could feel how much fun Lin and Morgan had on FIVE – it was the cinematic equivalent of a filmmaking team throwing their hands in the air, punching it up to 11 and just having fun with the material. “Fun” is the key word there; if the duo were having fun with this installment, it doesn’t show. It should come as no surprise that Lin has finally left the franchise, and one can’t help but wonder whether he grew bored of it halfway through making this movie.

It’s clear from the get-go, however, that Lin and Morgan had only one item on the agenda for FURIOUS 6go bigger. Much bigger. And though the film takes its sweet time getting to those big, adrenaline-infused set pieces in the final act, it certainly pays off that ambition. After all, the final action sequence here is probably the biggest, loudest and most elaborate of the entire franchise. It’s an absurd but totally effective half-hour of fun, and maybe the only point in the run-time where Lin pushes himself as an action director – which, in turn, makes it feel like the only point where he’s having any fun with these characters anymore.

FAST FIVE worked because it was big, dumb fun. FURIOUS 6 fails because it goes too far with that philosophy: it’s much bigger and much dumber, and that actually takes almost all of the fun out of watching it. And once the franchise had abandoned any semblance of reality (something I’m sure many critics and fans will actually celebrate and embrace), it lost its ability to excite. When characters are actively and frequently leaping 50 feet or more without a scratch – from one car to another, no less – things stop being impressive and start getting dull. Previous installments pushed that boundary to its limits, and this one finally breaks it.

With all of that said, I’m sure fans will get a kick out it. There’s plenty of plot points which will get longtime fans excited – both in the moment and for future entries. And though the first two acts aren’t particularly exhilarating, it all ends with an entertaining bang. Sure, the dialogue is horrendous and the script is an all-out mess, but nobody goes to see these movies for the writing. They go for the fast cars, beautiful women and lots of fun. It may be lacking a bit in that last department, but it’s got just enough gas in the tank (last one, for real this time) to please fans.

6/10

d.a. garabedian

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