Six movies into the franchise and there’s really just one major thing with which to not to be happy in the Fast & Furious series: the films’ naming conventions. For whatever reason, that seems to be the only thing that never came together under the adept guidance of departing four-time director, Justin Lin. However, considering that he’s crafted this fun series that has not only gone far beyond what its origins suggested it could, but also plays with its own timeline and has a keen eye for its own continuity, it must be Lin messing with us somehow. Because he’s spot on with most everything else associated with the franchise he steered into a new course starting with Tokyo Drift, then steered back onto the old course to rendezvous with the aforementioned new course.
Yeah, he’s got to be messing with us for some as-yet unrevealed reason. To wit: in a personal ongoing mission to digitize all of the DVDs on the shelf and store them neatly on a hard drive, one came to the following conundrum:
- The Fast & the Furious
- 2 Fast 2 Furious
- The Fast & the Furious – Tokyo Drift
- Fast & Furious
- Fast Five
- Fast & Furious 6 (DVD pending)
Organize these films as one would in a filing system (including appending the two “The“s at the end for the first and third flicks) and 6 becomes first, 4 becomes second, Tokyo Drift surprisingly stays in third, 1 becomes fifth, and Five also stands pat. Of Course 2 Fast gets shuffled to the top of the whole goddamned list, right before 300 and just under the kung fu movies sub folder. Trying to be cute (i.e. anal) and appending the 2 so that it’s Fast 2 Furious, 2 doesn’t have the desired result as it slips into fifth, and Five becomes sixth. Finally, you’ll probably do like I did, say the hell with it and give them all Fast 1 – 5 intros into their titles. It ruins the purity of the naming system, but when it’s already this screwed up, there’s little to be done. Besides, you already learned to accept shitty naming conventions when you had to stick the Indiana Jones and the monicker to Raiders to keep that series together….
Needless to say, it’s far easier to like Fast & Furious 6 (aka Furious 6) the movie than it is to make sense of its title and those of the others.
It continues to surprise that a series that started out a dozen years ago as a pretty enjoyable Vin Diesel one-off about street racing, has turned into the action movie franchise of this new century this side of Bourne. Christ, 2001. Can anyone imagine Gone in 60 Seconds or Torque making it to six films (well, Nick can, sort of)? Major movies not named Harry Potter don’t usually make it to six installments. But they do when the prior movie, really one of the most enjoyable action and/or heist films in recent memory (it was my #2 for the year a couple calendars back) did the near impossible: have a large cast full of big names, give said cast proper exploration and time to breathe, in a fun story that had a kick-ass action backdrop that provided fans damn near everything they could possibly want.
Considering that Fast Five did all that in spades, can Furious 6 live up to it? No, not quite. But that’s not to say that it’s not a good film, because it definitely is. To keep the analogy in terms specific to the franchise, Fast Five was a ten-second car, Furious 6 is probably an eleven- or twelve-second car. It’s not going to take its predecessor at the line, but you’ll still have your hair satisfyingly blown back when the race is over. In fact, line these six bad boys up, and Furious 6 is going to have the other four entries in the rear view mirror.
Most everyone is back from Five: Diesel’s Dominic Torretto, living comfortably in a non-extradition country after that gnarly bank heist in Rio, along with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor, Jordana Brewster’s Mia and new nephew, Jack, over whom Dom and Brian are already fighting in trying to instill their respective car philosophies. Even though they’re millionaires living the good life with their women (Dom, has shacked up with Elsa Pataky’s Elena from Five), the fact that they’re fugitives and can’t go home still weighs on them. Still, it would take something major to get them to risk their current situation. That something arrives in the form of Dwayne Johnson’s DSS Agent Hobbs, blocking out the Canary Islands sun with his biceps and needing Dom’s help with another, more dangerous crew that Hobbs has been tracking unsuccessfully. The fact that Dom’s soulmate, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s supposed to be dead, is part of that crew, is all Dom needs to take Hobbs upon his offer. Brian, also needing answers on Letty’s resurrection, goes with. They assemble most of the rest of the crew: Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Han (Sung Kang, in his last outing before the fateful ending in Tokyo that we already know is coming). Gina Carano, not as good as in Haywire, but looking good and kicking ass while she’s at it as Hobbs’ new partner, Riley, rounds out the hero side of the cast.
On the dark side is Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw, a former British SAS soldier turned precision and cutthroat thief, running his own crew. Shaw is looking to assemble a device that can cause a blackout in any area for 24 hours, which will be worth billions. He pulls off a heist in London via trickery and a car that’s part Formula One racer and part speed bump from hell. It isn’t long during the ensuing chase involving Dom and company and Hobbs through the streets that Shaw proves his crew is every bit as slick as Dom’s. Shaw’s philosophy of precision at the expense of all else is the polar opposite of Dom’s family ethos, and is laid out as much in a meeting between the two. While Dom is looking to extricate an amnesiac Letty from her current situation (and yes a street race is involved), the rest of the crew tracks their own leads. Tej, Roman, Han, Gisele and Riley pursue a Shaw henchmen, which leads to the catfight between Riley and Letty seen in the trailers, and a two-on-one affair for Han and Roman against a Shaw hench martial artist that goes about as well as it did for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Meanwhile, Brian returns to L.A. “undercover” to track down a lead to Shaw with whom he’s all too familiar.
Things eventually culminate in a pair of huge climactic set pieces, one involving a tank on a Spanish freeway, and an even bigger one involving a huge cargo plane and what has to be the world’s longest runway. Along the way, there’s a twist, a death and confrontations between the two crews whom Roman comically suggests are their evil alter egos. It is Tyrese who gets the lion’s share of the comedy here, and he pulls it off well. The rest of the cast is also good, and there’s no shortage of both emotional moments and great action. Lin again gives them all the attention they need to make the film work. Johnson in particular seems to enjoy having settled into a somewhat Stone Cold version of himself as Hobbs. He’s a hulking, one would assume beer drinking, “sumbitch”-spewing slab of (Brahma) beef that’s become a nice addition. And holy cow, is he having a year, with Snitch, G.I. Joe, Pain and Gain and now this? He’s on the streak of badassness we’ve been hoping for him since he got into this gig. Likewise, Diesel, Walker and Kang are all wearing their characters like a pair of comfortable shoes at this point, and Evans is fine also as Shaw.
On a side note, if the line for this movie last night was any indication, there’s not only going to easily be a Fast 7, I’m thinking Fast 8, 9, and hell, even 10 ain’t out of the realm of possibility. But it’s a shame that Universal’s desire to turn around 7 by next year has probably caused Lin to accelerate his departure from the series by one film and possibly negated Johnson’s availability as he prepares for and shoots Hercules. Lin should definitely be back in Tokyo to wrap this up. His action direction is stellar here, as always, although he does tend to definitely head more to the realm of the absurd stunting in some places than in previous installments. And while the tank sequence is impressively largely practical, he makes a far better go of some CGI in the prodigious cargo plane sequence than he did in the not-great-looking tunnel chase back in Fast & Furious. I’ve come to greatly appreciate Lin’s efforts in making this franchise far more than it had any right in being. His attention to continuity, inventiveness in the storytelling and respect for and deliverance of what the fans want to see, including a Diesel-Johnson smackdown in Fast Five and a team up against a henchmen the size of a small moon here have been much enjoyed. So while I’m eager to see the next installment (due July 11, 2014), I could wait another year if Lin were definitely returning.
That being said, here’s hoping The Fast 7 & the Seven Furious is at least as good as Furious 6.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars