“Fast and Furious 6” certainly delivers more of what fans of this muscle-car series lust after. The problem is that what most car fetishists desire is action without wit or even coherence. Happy to oblige, the filmmakers have produced a thoroughly brainless movie, though in many technical respects a well-crafted one.
One point in the movie’s favor is that, as with the last entry in the series (directed, like all the last three installments, by Justin Lin), the writers have grafted a different genre motor into the familiar franchise chassis. “Fast Five,” as it was called, was basically an “Oceans”-style heist flick, though one replete with car chases and fistfights. This time around, the model is the international spy extravaganza, though the result is less Bond or Bourne than a souped-up ensemble version of “XXX,” the 2002 saga of a brawny extreme sports star recruited by the NSA to track down a Russian terrorist.
In that flick the sullen hero was played by Vin Diesel, who pretty much repeats the turn here as Dom Toretto, the brooding racer and all-around essence of machismo who’s dominated the “Fast and Furious” universe since 2001 even when—as in the second and third installments—he was absent. The set-up is that he, along with most of his old crew, is recruited by beefy federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, the ex-wrestler who seems to turn up in every second action movie nowadays) to track down one Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who’s collecting components that will enable him—or anybody he sells the completed contraption to—to wipe out any nation’s defensive systems. The last item on his list is some sort of computer chip that will finish the project.
As MacGuffins go, this is a pretty lame one, but it’s only meant to serve as the occasion for a family reunion as the old gang is called together again, on promise of a full pardon for their past misdeeds, to catch the culprit. The crew includes Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), ex-cop and now best buddies with Dom, as well as husband (significant other?) of Toretto’s pregnant sister Mia (Jordana Brewster); wheel man Han (Sung Kang), from “Tokyo Drift” and succeeding F&F pictures; his squeeze Gisele (Gal Gadot); computer whiz Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges); and motormouth comic relief man Roman (Tyrese Gibson). (Missing this time around are Don Omer’s Santos and Tego Calderon’s Leo, whose quarrelsome couple routine is here basically turned over to Bridges and Gibson.) But what really gets Dom to agree to help Hobbs is the revelation that his former girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez)—who everybody thought had died at the hands of a drug-dealer in a sting orchestrated by O’Conner—appears to be alive and part of Shaw’s crew.
And so after a perfunctory opening in the Canary Islands, where Dom, Brian and Mia are enjoying the sun in an area free from danger of extradition, the action becomes a globe-trotting expedition that takes the crew to England and then a NATO base in Spain, where Owen plans the heist that will cement his coup. But of course it’s neither plot nor locale that’s the raison d’etre for the F&F movies; it’s the action set-pieces and the fights. And in these respects this entry delivers. An opening car race between O’Conner and Toretto along the winding cliffside roads of their island is good for a starter, and there’s another between Toretto and an amnesiac Letty later on that will also meet expectations. But the pieces de resistance are certainly a midsection encounter with a tank along a huge bridge in Spain and the final confrontation on a Spanish airstrip, where the gang is determined to use their vehicles—and their brawn—to stop a huge cargo plane bearing Shaw away to safety. The latter is really a masterful genre conception, intercutting between the action on the ground as the cars and trucks, along with reams of steel cable, attempt to halt the plane’s takeoff, and a series of simultaneously occurring onboard fights involving both males and females in various combinations. It’s a pity that it’s muddied by Stephen F. Windon’s blurry camerawork and spotty visual effects, with entirely too many shots opaque rather than crisp and the editing by Christian Wagner, Kelly Matsumoto and Greg D’Auria contributing to an erratic, slapdash feel. The same deficiencies apply to the bridge sequence, though to a lesser degree. The result is that what ought to be the high points of the movie instead wind up disappointingly chaotic and unclear. (Evans doesn’t even get the sort of visually operatic send-off you look forward to in shlock like this.)
Acting doesn’t much matter in a F&F movie, but one does really notice the complete absence of any here—apart from Evans, who tries to compensate for his physical diminutiveness in comparison to his co-stars with sneers and stares. Diesel is content to coast along on his impassivity and monotone line delivery, and Johnson lets his biceps do most of his work. (When these two burly guys try to face one another down at the very close, you might be reminded of the confrontation between the brontosaurus and the T-rex in “The Lost World.”) Walker, meanwhile, still seems awfully lightweight for his role—a prison-set scene in which he downs a passel of burly thugs requires a gigantic suspension of disbelief—but he must be thankful for the fact that it’s kept his career from sinking into oblivion. Rodriguez has a perpetually pained, pouty expression that suggests the discomfort a viewer might feel watching her, and Brewster is okay, despite a damsel-in-distress twist in the final reel that expands the picture to an unconscionably long 130 minutes. (That turn also requires the use of one of the hoariest devices in action-movie plotting, involving Hobbs’ partner, played by Gina Carano. It had whiskers long before it was employed in yet another recent actioner, “The Last Stand.”) Everybody else does what’s demanded, with laid-back Bridges coming off best and Gibson—forced to do a fast-talking routine that has a more than a whiff of inner-city stereotype to it—worst, though Kang’s amateurishness is, as usual, a distraction. Except for the vagaries of camerawork, editing and effects in the big action sequences, “Fast & Furious 6” is technically accomplished, with widescreen lensing that takes advantage of the often impressive locations.
And despite its inordinate length, series fans will want to stick around for the movie’s post-credit teaser, which both ties the plot in with that of “Tokyo Drift” (made, it now appears, way out of chronological sequence) and points toward an inevitable part seven co-starring—no, I won’t spoil the surprise.