"Fast & Furious" Fatigue Averted With Sixth Film In Series

If action is your cinematic elixir of choice, “Fast & Furious 6” won’t just sate your thirst – you’ll be blackout drunk by the end credits. The most ardent of action junkies is likely to be left slumped over in his or her chair, clothes dotted with popcorn kernels, struggling to wipe the drool from his or her mouth. But who’ll think of the ushers? Certainly not director Justin Lin, who – thanks to the enormous financial success of “Fast Five” – gets an astronomical budget to play with here. And there’s never any doubt that one cent of it was left off screen.

As problematic as much of the picture is – and, boy, does it ever have issues – the final hour features two setpieces so staggeringly ambitious that they’ll either confirm one’s grievances, or render them irrelevant. The film literally shakes us out of apathy – yes, it’s that loud – and demands that we pick a side. Are we with the film or against it? Are we enjoying ourselves or not? If the series’ previous entries have made anything clear, it’s that in the world of “Fast & Furious,” there’s no such thing as an innocent bystander. Indifference isn’t welcome here.

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reprise their roles as tough guy gearheads Brian O’Conner and Dom Toretto, both of whom are enjoying some downtime after their successful $100 million heist in Rio de Janeiro. When the federal agent that had been hunting them, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), asks for their help in exchange for their freedom, they oblige – but not before a wrench is thrown into the proceedings. Dom’s former flame, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), was thought to be dead and buried, but has resurfaced, working for the same criminal that Hobbs is tracking – Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).

Who Shaw is and what he’s trying to do – acquire some microchip that will allow him to take over the world, or some such nonsense – makes no difference to the story, but on screen presence alone, Evans is the series’ most convincing villain in a while. And the accompanying Letty storyline gives Vin Diesel an actual reason for his usual brooding. These strong points allow the film to escape its mostly miserable first half unscathed.

But what’s so miserable about the first hour? Tyrese Gibson, mostly. Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan unwisely turn Gibson’s character, Roman, and Sung Kang’s character, Han, into Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan a la the “Rush Hour” series. Their dialogue is littered with hackneyed one-liners and some forced physical comedy between the two falls particularly flat. It’s not out of place within the increasingly self-aware world of Lin’s “Fast & Furious” films, but it’s absolutely unnecessary. The first “Fast & Furious” worked as well as it did because it played things relatively straight. Here, the characters are practically winking at the camera, as if to say, “Look how funny we are!”

Also returning are rapper Ludacris, filling the role of comic relief much more successfully than Gibson, and Jordana Brewster as Mia, sister of Dom and girlfriend to Brian. Additionally, MMA fighter Gina Carano (“Haywire”) joins Evans as one of two new cast members. She’s essentially agent Hobb’s sidekick, but brings a palpable level of intrigue and slyness to a relatively minor role.

So, while much of the film is as warmed over as one might expect, two extended action scenes make it worth the price of admission – one involving a tank and the other involving a cargo plane. These sequences are jaw-dropping exercises in vehicular mayhem, and that they mostly make spatial and visual sense is a testament to the often unheralded talent of those working behind the camera – from stunt work to visual effects and everything in between. These sequences aren’t realistic in the slightest, but it’s stunning to think about every decision that went into making these setpieces a reality.

For anyone who has ever enjoyed a “Fast & Furious” film, there’s no reason to miss this one. It’s paced as well as any film in the series and its thrills, while inimitably over the top, are undeniable. It’s Justin Lin’s best effort to date and it’s the series’ best entry since the original. And, as if you needed any more proof of its zaniness, know that it takes a special kind of film to not know its own title. All of Universal’s marketing has referred to the picture as “Fast & Furious 6,” but its own title card inexplicably reads “Furious 6.” But the cherry on top? One of the more memorable codas in recent memory, setting up the villain for “Fast & Furious 7.” The wait won’t be long – it’s due in 2014 – but after this one, anticipation should be sky high.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: May 24, 2013
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Justin Lin
Screenwriter: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans, Gina Carano
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language)