TIFF 2013 – Philosophical Zombies: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s REAL

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Sometimes, when it comes to taking a hard look at foreign language films, you have to keep a little perspective – especially if you don’t speak the native language the film is presented in. Maybe that bad dialogue you think you’re hearing / reading is actually just a poor subtitle translation. Maybe that odd storytelling device you can’t quite put your finger on is some cultural nuance that you are failing to grasp. (One of the most famous of these is Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST, whose atypical and abrupt tonal shifts are not something commonly found in the West.)

Unfortunately, none of that is the case with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s REAL. The dialogue really is that bad. The exposition really is that ham-fisted and painfully cliché. And no, the sluggish pacing and tired story are not something that’s simply been lost in translation. All of these things are just part of the film, and they ruin a seemingly promising movie. Starring Takeru Satô and Haruka Ayase as lovers, the film follows Koichi (Satô) as he uses an experimental technique to enter the consciousness of his comatose girlfriend, Atsumi (Ayase). The plan is to try and lure her back to reality. As expected, things go horribly awry when reality and dream begin to intermingle.

REAL commits several cardinal sins of moviemaking. First, it’s boring. This is maybe the most important sin, because it prevents anything that happens later in the film from having any weight. The pacing can be occasionally excruciating through most of the film’s first half (as well as parts of the second) as we follow Koichi into Atsumi’s mind then back out again. This happens over and over with no clear point or purpose; Koichi doesn’t seem to have any clear idea what he’s supposed to do when he’s with her, and he wanders aimlessly on hunches when he’s not. More distressing is the fact that absolutely nothing is made of the fact that this is the first time he’s “spoken” to her in over a year – following her suicide attempt and subsequent comatose state, Koichi spends a year by her bedside. But when he finally gets a chance to “talk to” the love of his life – albeit only by interacting with her subconscious – he doesn’t seem surprised, or even care that much. No hug. No emotional toll. No sense that these two actually care about each other in any way, shape or form. So why should we care about them, or their struggle? We don’t, and the sluggish pacing had me glancing at my watch fifteen minutes into the film.

Which brings us to our second sin: REAL is painfully predictable. You don’t have to be a genre-whiz in this day and age to know how unclear-reality films work (even your uncool uncle has seen INCEPTION), so if you’re planning on taking one on, you better have some seriously surprising tricks up your sleeve. And while Kurosawa certainly has a stuffed sleeve or two, nothing that comes out of it is worth a damn because we’ve seen it all precisely one hundred times before. It takes no more than fifteen minutes of watching (ten or less, if you’re astute) to guess nearly every move the director has to make. So when the truth begins to unravel, it’s not surprising, or thought-provoking, or even entertaining – it just sits there like dead air, receiving zero reaction. High-concept stories of this type need to stay two steps ahead of their audience, and REAL can’t even keep pace with them.

And when Kurosawa finally starts to throw some real curveballs in the final act of the film, he undercuts it all with the third and final sin: the movie is just plain dumb. A surprising (but not particularly well-earned) eleventh-hour development about a childhood friend plays fairly well at first. And had Kurosawa chosen to end the film with that revelation, it would have certainly been stronger for it. But he doesn’t. He keeps going. And going. And going. Once he finally stops, he’s robbed his one promising idea of all its worth by turning the climax into a bizarre, unappealing and unimpressive creature flick.

The film is filled with moments like this. The first major plot twist occurs a little over halfway through the movie, and though it’s one of the most predictable developments in recent memory, it could be forgiven if the story which resulted from it was satisfying. But it’s not. Our realization over what actually caused our heroes’ coma is so dumb, so painfully counterproductive to everything that has come before and everything that will come after, that it’s no wonder there were audible snickers and laughs (at the film, mind you) during the screening.

Granted, Kurosawa has some interesting visual ideas, and there’s one particular moment of a melting cityscape that’s quite lovely. But beyond that, there is absolutely nothing worth recommending about this film. It’s dumb, unsatisfying, generic and generally insulting to its audience. Avoid it.

[D-]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – Someone Special: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s DON JON

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DON JON has an perfectly compelling premise: a pair of characters attempt to start a relationship, both of whom have been shaped by the conflicting media they’ve consumed. One is a machismo archetype, addicted to pornography (Jon, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt); the other is the ideal woman (Barbara, Scarlett Johansson), who expects her man to “be a man” – which means doing everything she asks of him. Anything less would be to spit in the face of romanticism, to fail to meet the bar that her idealized dreams (fuelled by Anne Hathaway-Channing Tatum Hollywood blockbusters) have jammed into her head. Add it up, and you’ve got the makings of a compelling dramedy. So why doesn’t the film work better?

As child-actor-turned-Hollywood-superstar Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a writer / director, DON JON shows promise. Ultimately, however, he also has some room to improve and mature behind the camera. His premise is compelling, but it’s undercut by heavy-handedness, unnecessary hyper-stylization and an overall need to drive home a message. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film; it’s quite funny, well-acted and has some really great moments. But its flaws are harmful to the overall product and reveal that maybe Gordon-Levitt isn’t quite there yet as a storyteller.

Many of the parallels between Jon’s addiction and Barbara’s love of cheesy movies are terrific. Her beliefs about romance are as warped and ill-conceived as his are, and Gordon-Levitt does a great job laying the groundwork between them: romance semiotics bleed off the screen and into Jon and Barbara’s relationship, from the grand musical cues when they kiss to the way he changes everything about himself “for her”. But when the subtext of that parallel becomes straight text, it also becomes less interesting. If Jon recognizes these parallels but she doesn’t, even when she’s called out on them, it makes both characters less interesting – Barbara because she comes across as a stubborn bitch (admittedly, intentionally so), and Jon because his realization garners her no pity in his eyes. Had his revelation been a more last-minute realization, it might have better impacted their final moments together.

Also troublesome is the dynamic between Jon and Esther (Julianne Moore), which feels unearned. Worse still, it evolves into something which had stronger emotional potential for the climax than was actually depicted on screen. Though the place that their relationship winds up rings completely true from a human perspective and serves Jon’s story well, it doesn’t really seem to deserve to get there. It also ends in a very bizarre place – somewhere neither here or there. Jon acknowledges his progress, but also acknowledges the fleetingness of it all; something which is fine in of itself, had the story taken the time to delve into what that conflict means to him as a person. But it doesn’t. It seems to want to have it both ways, so neither really works.

Even more bizarrely, the film totally wastes Brie Larson, who utters a single line of dialogue in the entire film. Granted, it is a pointed, meaningful line on which the entire final act hinges, but it’s still something that could have been handled by just about anybody. The rest of the cast is awesome (especially Tony Danza as Jon’s father), and everybody gets a chance at a laugh; it just would have been nice to see a bit more done with the talented Larson.

But overall, the film has a lot of good going for it. It is often laugh-out-loud funny, it’s sexy and clever, and Gordon-Levitt proves that he can do a good job behind the camera if only he can polish up his screenwriting a bit first.

[B-]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – He’s Got a Lot of Scars, But All the Others Are Dead: David Gordon Green’s JOE

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David Gordon Green is having one hell of a year. Once known for his indie dramas, the versatile actor was eventually snatched up by Hollywood when he developed a relationship with what can now be affectionately referred to as the THIS IS THE END crowd: Danny McBride, James Franco, Jonah Hill and the like. For the last five or so years, he’s been hard at work directing films like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, YOUR HIGHNESS and an assortment of episodes for EASTBOUND & DOWN.

But over the past few months, Green has returned to his roots with a pair of exceptional – and exceptionally quiet – films set in his native Texas. The first, PRINCE AVALANCHE, was a delightfully low-key buddy-comedy starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Now, he follows that picture up with the perfect companion piece: JOE, starring Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan. Both films take place in the rural south, and offer complimentary perspectives on contemporary masculinity and heteronormativity, even as they come at them from opposing sides.

In PRINCE AVALANCHE, we never leave the woods where our heroes live and work. There is an overwhelming sense of isolation, often times even from one another. But this isolation is less an oppressive force than it is a liberating one: a man alone is not something to be feared, but something to be (occasionally) revered and enjoyed for its rare quality. JOE is the polar opposite of this philosophy. If AVALANCHE represents the side of the coin that is Man Alone, then certainly JOE represents Man Together: a pointed look at contemporary society and how men’s roles have shifted somewhat since the frontier days.

Because at its core, JOE is practically a modern Western, with Nicolas Cage taking the role of the beaten down sheriff. In his most impressive monologue in the film, Cage waxes nostalgic about the good ol’ days: “There’s no frontier anymore”, he laments, providing the thesis for the film. Back in the old days, a man and his pistol were all the protection a family needed. Nowadays, things are not so simple. Junkyard dogs are more common than honor and grit, and justice seems to turn a blind eye towards the big problems in favor of hunting down petty crimes. Cage’s Joe makes his stance on the subject abundantly clear: nobody is going to take personal justice out of his own hands and put it into the hands of others.

The titular character – played admirably by Cage – is a man of another time. He takes the law into his own hands, both punitively and as a figure of authority. But unlike a show like JUSTIFIED, where the rough-and-tumble, out-of-time sheriff who lives by the old code finds himself as a fish out of water in contemporary society, Joe is not alone in his thinking. Green takes great pains to show that the majority of this rural area in which Joe lives goes by his thinking. There are standoffs in bars, shootouts are an everyday occurrence and brothels are a frequent hangout spot. It is the frontier, for all intents and purposes – a small, isolated community which never outgrew its frontier days. And yet, these aren’t the old days; such a lifestyle is not sustainable. Joe has zero tolerance for police and any authority other than his own. According to him, all they do is get in the way of him doing what needs to be done. They get in the way of him being the man that he seems to think he should be – the one who protects the people close to him (including himself) by any means necessary. And this type of thinking is just not something that can be perpetually sustained in today’s society, no matter how frontier-esque it may appear.

And so we’re treated to a wide variety of Western semiotics and good-dog / bad-dog metaphors: “That dog’s a good dog”, Joe explains when young Gary (Sheridan) seems put off by the bulldog he keeps under his porch. (Hint: he’s not talking about the dog.) Later, after the dog has run away and Joe and Gary have found him by the side of the road, the kid notices that the dog is covered in scars – presumably from all the times Joe has used him to take down what he considers to be “bad dogs”. “He’s got a lot of scars,” says Gary. “Yeah, but all the others is dead,” responds Joe. (Hint two: he’s still not talking about the dog.)

At the core of the film is the relationship between Joe and Gary. Joe, who sees himself as a position of authority, comes to find himself in a paternal position, as well. Despite his girlfriend’s attempts to push him into domesticity, it takes this young boy to show Joe that being an authoritative figure, the one who takes care of people, means you have to have people to take care of. And fifteen-year-old Gary, who is the sole breadwinner of his family because of his drunken and abusive father, is a hard worker and a good dog. So Joe takes him under his wing, and will go to the ends of the earth, justice be damned, to protect him.

Green films the movie with an ambient, free-flowing kind of style, once again using the music of David Wingo (though this time collaborating with Jeff McIlwain, rather than post-rock outfit Explosions in the Sky) to superb effect. He fills it with tiny, human moments, particularly a powerful montage which includes shots of Gary’s father Wade drunkenly breakdancing in the street, as well as an absolutely devastating scene between Wade and a local, homeless drifter. Sheridan, meanwhile, continues a very strong year: following up the equally terrific MUD (not to mention his first feature in 2011, TREE OF LIFE), the young actor has established himself as one to keep on your radar.

Between JOE and PRINCE AVALANCHE, David Gordon Green has reestablished himself among the most compelling independent directors working today. A terrific, powerful film.

[A]

d.a. garabedian

TIFF 2013 – Love is Stupid Monkeys: Michael Dowse’s THE F WORD

THE F WORD

Michael Dowse is on a roll. After knocking it out of the park with the viciously goodhearted GOON, the Canadian filmmaker returns to the Toronto International Film Festival with THE F WORD, a romantic comedy about the dreaded and much-debated “friend-zone”. Starring Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and none other than the boy-wizard himself, Daniel Radcliffe, the film is one of those rare treats that manages to be the “good” installment in a genre which is rarely taken seriously.

Because, in the words of Radcliffe himself, the romantic comedy genre is one which is occasionally great, but rarely done right. And THE F WORD – which was written by Elan Mastai and based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars by Michael Rinaldi – gets it right.

Overflowing with sincerity, honesty and constant laughs, Dowse’s latest works on every level imaginable. Not only is it powerfully funny, it has the heart to back it up. It’s filled with sweet, very real-feeling moments which should be instantly identifiable to members of both sexes, as well as those on both sides of the “can men and women be friends?” argument. Notably, the film very, very wisely refuses to indulge either side of the argument: at times, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. This isn’t the story of a boy trying to win the girl – this is the more nuanced story of both a boy and a girl who come together and the ramifications that their meeting has on their lives.

Nearly every step of the way, the film indulges then subverts elements of the genre, to powerful and realistic effect. It very consciously dictates the line between the truth of love in the real world and the fairy tale of love in the movies, then seeks to tread that line expertly. Yes, all of those cliché things that you imagine will happen in a romantic story are going to happen in this movie, but they happen because the characters are themselves aware of those clichés. The truth and result of those actions are never how we expect them to turn out, and the film uses that reality to create drama, comedy and, above all else, a real truth about the relationship between men and women.

It’s rare to find a film which so perfectly captures the moments that happen between two people who feel an instant connection. Each scene of the film is like a tiny time capsule, a memory, a moment frozen in time. Those vivid, powerful flashes that you remember for years: the sight of a tattoo the first time you see a person in a state of (semi-) undress, the flashing of the lights while dancing at a club, the way they materialize in your mind and dictate your decisions.

Though we initially see the story more from the side of Wallace (Radcliffe), the story quickly opens up to show us Chantry’s (Kazan) side of things. Both characters have agency, both are the victims of circumstance, and both of their situations are unique. Chantry’s boyfriend is not some jerk which Wallace must overcome and rescue her from – he’s an impressive, honest and extremely nice person who does not deserve to be hurt. There is no “winning” in THE F WORD. As Adam Driver’s Allan so eloquently explains, there are only five options: be sleazy, be conniving, be pathetic, be honest or move on. Any way you cut it, somebody gets hurt, and not only does the film not shy away from that fact, it openly embraces it as an inevitable outcome to any conclusion.

THE F WORD occupies that contemporary, comedic space where banter is king, and it surpasses many of its peers in that regard. While many have seen the relaxed editing style which Judd Apatow has introduced to the comedy community as something that has gotten out of hand, Dowse (along with his editor, Yvann Thibaudeau) knows better. At a perfect 99 minutes, the film never has a chance to overstay its welcome, and the long scenes of bickering and bantering are pitch perfect no matter who is on the court: Radcliffe and Driver, Radcliffe and Kazan, Mackenzie Davis and Driver, Megan Park and Radcliffe, Park and Kazan… You get the picture. If there is one single thing that this film does flawlessly correct, it is the casting. Every actor is unique, memorable, and given ample room to play and shine. Every line gets a laugh from every character, and that is a rare and special thing.

Ultimately, THE F WORD is one of the sweetest, funniest films of the year, and a showcase for all of the talent involved: Park and Davis both have great careers ahead of them, Kazan is well on her way to being a household name and Radcliffe proves that he can shake the Potter legacy and forge a path all his own – one with legitimate staying power. And Michael Dowse continues to impress, elevating himself from one of the best Canadian comedy directors to one of the best period.

8/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: Lake Bell’s IN A WORLD…

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Lake Bell is one of those character actresses who has been popping up in small roles for the better part of the last decade. Occasionally you’d catch her as one of the protagonist’s friends, or a recurring role on a television series; sometimes she’d even appear as one of the leading ladies (like SURFACE, NBC’s science-fiction series from the mid-2000s, or Rob Corddry’s demented CHILDRENS HOSPITAL). But with IN A WORLD…, Bell finally gets a chance to steal the show out from everybody else – largely because of the fact that she wrote and directed the feature herself.

IN A WORLD… has a delightful premise: Bell, the daughter of the world’s (second) most famous voice-over narrator, finds herself as the first major female voice to become a part of the industry. It’s the kind of story that’s catered perfectly to film-lovers, which explains why it went over so well when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. It pushes all of the right buttons: cheesy movie trailers with big, melodramatic voice-overs, larger-than-life characters who live the Hollywood lifestyle (even if they’re technically out on the fringes of The Biz) and a handful of delightfully tongue-in-cheek A-list cameos. But the film also has the added bonus of tackling the story from a purely feminine point-of-view, and that is where Bell truly manages to elevate the material – almost certainly subconsciously.

Where the film shines isn’t in its jokes-per-page, nor in its realistic character arcs (though those are absolutely worth noting, because they’re both excellent). What’s most refreshing about IN A WORLD… is Bell’s voice – both literally and figuratively. It’s appropriate that a film which hinges so directly on a story about the distinction between the male and female voice should find its leading lady’s voice as its most powerful tool. From Bell’s personal brand of situational comedy to her naturalistic character dynamics, she has managed to instil this film with a very particular, feminine voice – one which is neither overly direct nor consciously stifled.

The truth is, this is a woman telling a story in her own voice, from her own perspective, and it feels both natural and refreshing. Whether it’s the simple but realistic dynamic between Bell’s Carol and her sister, Dani (played by Michaela Watkins), or the way male characters seem presented through the for-some-reason-rarely-seen “female gaze”, IN A WORLD… feels different – it feels true, and honest, and uncensored. Bell doesn’t settle for a generic voice which would make her indistinguishable from any other director, male or female; she embraces her own voice, one which just so happens to be female. It’s not ham-fisted, or overly cynical, or even particularly showy. It just is. And though many people would argue that gender politics shouldn’t come into the discussion, I personally think it’s worth both pointing out and celebrating.

It’s also important to note that Bell herself tackles the subject herself in the final act of the film, where her own views on this subject become clear. Handouts and political manipulation are not the same as true, personal success. It’s not enough to praise this film for being a female voice – it has to be worthy of praise in and of itself, no matter where it comes from. A voice is a voice, regardless of gender; its perceived quality should not be influenced by such things. Either it’s good, or it isn’t.

Luckily for IN A WORLD…, it is. The cast is absolutely perfect, from Demetri Martin’s bumbling Louis to Alexandra Holden’s good-natured but abrasive Jamie. Bell populates the film with a who’s-who of memorable character actors, including Nick Offerman (who’s been blowing up the last few years, thanks to PARKS AND REC), Rob Corddry (naturally), Fred Melamed (who steals every scene in which he appears) and more. Even the smallest roles get their chance to work a few jokes in.

The movie is funny, the pace is light and the story packs a surprisingly emotional punch. You could do far worse at the movies this summer.

8/10

d.a. garabedian

Micro-Review: John Mitchell & Jeremy Kipp Walker’s THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK

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John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker’s THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK has been billed as (probably) the only alien / folk duo / science-fiction / action / romance / comedy movie ever made. It’s difficult to argue with that assessment, because it may be the most accurate description of the film you’re likely to find. After all, this is a movie where a duo of intergalactic space travelers come to Earth bent on its destruction, discover music and decide to spare the human race – all while developing a cult following as the bluegrass / folk duo, Future Folk.

If any (or all) of that sounds appealing to you, you’re certainly in for a treat. THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK is a silly, absurd film, but its idiosyncrasies work in its favor, creating a rare level of charm. From the delightfully catchy musical numbers – there are several – to the goofy-to-the-point-of-endearing sense of humor, it’s difficult to ever peg the film down into any one category. And at an extremely brisk 86 minutes, it never has a chance to wear out its welcome. Mitchell and Walker continuously evolve the story in new directions (and genres) over the course of the movie, and by the time we reach the finale, it never feels like it’s had a chance to repeat itself. 

It’s noteworthy that the filmmakers choose to fully stick to their guns when it comes to the premise’s absurdities. There’s a lot of camp value inherent to these kind of stories, and they never resist putting it all up there on the screen – from the set decoration to the costume design, this is an indie comedy for the DOCTOR WHO crowd. Similarly, it should be acknowledged that the film never takes the easy way out, especially given its classic “fish-out-of-water” set-up. It dabbles briefly in milking humor out of initial alien-human interactions, but it’s all in the service of character development, and it never allows itself to descend into cliché sight gags and scenarios.

The film is not perfect, however. Its narrative is unambitious, though pleasingly so, and some of the sequences have quite obviously been included in order to tick off another genre, rather than because they organically evolved out of the story. But these are small nitpicks in an otherwise delightful story, and the writer / directors earn such huge points for originality and creativity that its hard to focus in on any of them. Really, this is just a very sweet film about connecting with other people (even if those people are actually aliens), whether that connection be through music or love. And even in spite of its goofy tone, Mitchell and Walker manage to pull off a surprisingly poignant ending – one which feels fully earned and emotionally resonant.

This is one of those rare properties that is just dripping with possibility. Much like the similarly eccentric Flight of the Conchords, Future Folk have the potential to expand into all kinds of different areas. In addition to the film, there’s already an album of music available online, and – given the right level of exposure – I could see a whole cult-following springing up around them. And deservedly so.

Hondo!

7.5/10

d.a. garabedian

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