A Little Left in the Tank
A Film Review of Fast & Furious 6
By: Lawrence Napoli
Back in 2001, a little movie called The Fast and the Furious introduced mainstream America to contemporary street racing, NOS and Vin Diesel doing what he apparently does best. None could have predicted that this series would have turned into such an immense financial success considering it took three different directors before finding one that was truly committed in Justin Lin and his first entry (Tokyo Drift) is to this day regarded as the weakest link. Lin listened to the fans and got back to the basics of what made this fiction work and the result was a cacophony of stunts that continued to push the envelope, an added level of brawling combat and gunplay, but most importantly characters that had explosive chemistry together. Fast & Furious 6 is the most recent entry and it’s a rarity to find any franchise capable of holding up to that kind of mileage. If any of you have concerns regarding the possible sputtering of a series long overdue to be put to bed, know that Fast & Furious 7 is already in pre-production and we’ve just gotten past opening weekend for #6. No studio is dumb enough to gut that kind of golden calf before at least running it (humiliatingly) into the ground.
Is the franchise hanging on for dear life?
Writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson return to pen F&F6 and they try really hard to duplicate the general plot points of the last film: assemble the team, give them a challenge, car stunts, punches to the face, victory. It sounds simple enough, but Fast Five was such an incredible experience for being the first to draw in all the marquee characters from the previous films and added The Rock to the mix as the cherry on top. In effect, the F&F franchise capitalized on an “Avengers” effect even before that movie came out. Unfortunately, most of what the audience experiences in 6 feels awfully familiar as we see our favorite criminals with hearts of gold doing the same things they’ve done before with the same level of camaraderie. The story still feels big, but the logistics of getting these main characters back into the conflict seems a tad convoluted and everything else that follows from character arcs to twists come off as slightly ridiculous.
The team is back. Now give the audience a reason to stay.
I think the film trailers actually worked against the writers in that they revealed too many major plot twists such as spear hooks into giant planes and the return of Letty, someone believed to have been dispatched as of the fourth film. Perhaps the trailer reveals wouldn’t have been so bad had there been larger spectacles and/or developments lying in wait, but this was not the case. To compensate, Morgan and Thompson reach further back into the franchise mythos to resurrect slightly more obscure characters which is nice for nostalgia, but not enough to keep the Fast and Furious formula fresh. What’s worse is that to appreciate F&F6 you must have seen every previous film because the references to the past and a thematic return to what once was in the very first film is the engine for this film. That being said, the story is entertaining enough while maintaining that satisfying focus on family as well as a couple of neat developments along the way.
Guess who's back?
For a franchise built on car races and stunts, I find it disappointing yet somewhat inevitable for it to have evolved into a more standard action/adventure film. There’s also a hell of a lot of jumping, falling and launching of bodies in this movie which is an interesting curveball to the action, but seems far too super-heroic even for former street racers, hackers and ex-FBI to be capable of. F&F6 features the most combat action from gunplay and fisticuffs to date which is executed very well on screen, but plays a second fiddle to the true spectacle: massive set-piece-chaos. Notable sequences are the car chase around London and the climactic run-in with a military transport plane near the end. The problem with both of these sequences is that we’ve seen chases similar to the prior and the latter boils down to movement in a straight line for what seems to be a 30 mile runway. The absurdity of the action mirrors the exponential proficiency of each and every protagonist which, despite the separation in real and in-film time between all the sequels, still feels like Paul Walker is trying to squeeze out an extra 10 horsepower from his cheesy import. None of this will probably to most fans seeing how a 6th entry in a film series has more to do with luring crowds in with familiarity rather than innovation. But know this, at no one point does F&F6 outshine its predecessor in any aspect of filmmaking, which leads me to conclude that Justin Lin needs a satisfying and conclusive way to wrap up this fiction for part 7 before it gets recognized as Saw’s spiritual successor.
Tyrese believes he can fly.
Performances across the board for F&F6 were reliable and expected. No one outshines anyone else and every character (save for Letty) behaves exactly as they have with no surprises. That being said, this film is all about Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and every other character, even The Rock, falls in line. I’m sure Diesel is a great guy to work with, but his emotional range varies between mopey-eyed to angry-mopey-eyed and that’s it. This is unfortunate considering this film gave his character an opportunity to emote a little more in between bouts of crashing and punching. Luke Evans as the nefarious Shaw presents as generic of a villain as one can get, but then no villain in a F&F film ever stood out something to truly watch out for either the characters’ or audience’s perspective. They’re all merely speed bumps to the action and camaraderie. The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, is noteworthy because he’s still himself and built like he could run through a brick wall without suffering a scratch. Like the rest of the cast, he doesn’t really show anything new acting wise, so if you are interested in that, I suggest you check out Pain & Gain.
Can you still smell what I'm cooking?
The true theme of Fast & Furious 6 is: “been there, done that.” If you want you your fill of action and consider yourself too cool for super heroes, too dumb for sci-fi or too interested in a sex life for fantasy, this film will adequately address your needs. But it is also by no means a game-changer for this summer as something truly remarkable to see and this will reflect at the box office. Fast Five represented the peak of what this franchise was capable of accomplishing in terms of story, action and character as well as being a natural end that culminates on a high note. Dragging everyone back for this film officially feels like going through the motions and I don’t particularly care for that. The film’s teaser reveal post-credits connects the fiction back to Tokyo Drift (the last sequel in the franchise, chronologically) even seems like jumping the shark because the actor earmarked as the big bad for F&F7 was a real surprise, but in hindsight feels way over the top. Fast & Furious may be biting off of The Expendables and that franchise is already getting as tired, old and dusty as Stallone himself.