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FAST & FURIOUS 6

“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.

PEEPLES

“Meet the Peeples” could have been the working title of Tina Gordon Chism’s comedy, which uses the same flimsy sitcom premise of “Meet the Parents” as the excuse for a series of sketches that sacrifice any sort of narrative consistency for lazy laughs. Though a talented ensemble gives their all trying to breathe life into the illogicalities of Chism’s episodic script, in the end the movie amounts to far less than the sum of its parts—or “Parents,” for that matter.

Ingratiating Craig Robinson stars as Wade Walker, a performer at children’s parties who’s living with wealthy, beautiful Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington). He plans to propose to her, but before he can get around to it, Grace goes off to visit her parents, whom he’s never met. Urged on by his loquacious brother Chris (Malcolm Barrett), Wade decides to show up unexpectedly at the Peeple estate, introduce himself to her family and pop the question.

But, of course, Wade’s unexpected arrival is a prelude to disaster. The main obstacle to his plan turns out to be Grace’s father Virgil (David Alan Grier), a pompous, domineering (and possessive) judge whom Grace has told nothing of her boyfriend and who takes an instant dislike to him. But the entire family poses difficulties. Mom Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) is far more inviting to Wade than her husband, but she’s a onetime soul singer with a hankering for booze and drugs she finds hard to control. Sister Gloria (Kali Hawk) is a TV newswoman who’s brought along a friend—camerawoman Meg (Kimrie Lewis-Davis), to whom she’s obviously closer than any of her relatives recognize. And brother Simon (Tyler James Williams) is a natural-born geek who wants to be both a rapper and a stud, and has sticky fingers to boot. Before the week is out, Chris shows up too, and Virgil’s parents (Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll) make an appearance as well.

It will certainly come as no surprise that things eventually work out for Wade and Grace—and he manages to bring out the best in the other characters, too—but there are plenty of speed bumps along the way. A few of them are pretty funny, but for the most part they’re at best mildly amusing—and worse, they don’t connect logically to one another. Virgil provides the most obvious example. He’s supposedly a stern, unyielding guy, but it’s revealed that he has a midnight secret (not the affair that Wade suspects, but something equally uncharacteristic) and when confronted by a sweater bearing his old fraternity letters, goes immediately off into a strange dance that makes him look like the fourth stooge. Gloria’s sexual preference will be obvious to any viewer from the first moment she appears onscreen, but all her relatives (save one) seem oblivious to it, and late in the picture she even “tests” herself with Chris, in one of the script’s most peculiar (and borderline offensive) scenes. And throughout hints are dropped about Grace’s checkered past with a whole host of guys—revelations that distress Wade briefly but are totally out of sync with what we see of her and then are summarily dismissed as inconsequential when the story no longer needs them to extract laughs.

Meanwhile bits of business are simply tossed into the mix like cadenzas. So Robinson does an impromptu dance when he puts on an elaborate headdress that Daphne once used in her stage act. Why? Because the dress-up might strike us as funny. But when things come to a head at the close, in a scene involving accidental drug use that causes a big public blow-up between Wade and Virgil, the writing and execution are so tonally off that the sequence generates audience discomfort rather than the belly-laughs it’s aiming for.

With an ensemble like this, of course, there can’t help but be good moments, even if they’re mostly throwaways. Robinson makes Wade an ingratiating nice guy, and Grier plays officious without becoming totally detestable in the process—a considerable feat. Williams, Barrett and Van Peebles savor their modest opportunities, and though the women are generally less happily employed (with Carroll shamelessly wasted), Merkerson has a few chances to shine. On the technical side the picture is fine, with a handsome production design from Rick Butler and slick cinematography from Alexander Gruiszynski.

But that’s not enough. “Peeples” deserves credit for avoiding, for the most part, gross-out humor (though one could have done without the song Wade has composed to perform for his kiddie audience, which though meant to be funny just comes across as coarse). Given the quality of the cast, though, this highly uneven, ill-constructed comedy is a disappointment.