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Universal Pictures’ Fast and the Furious franchise has always appealed to three types of people: die-hard action enthusiasts, teenagers and the niche subset interested in street racing. Cutting out plot in favor of cars and action, the series has made billions, bringing its version of street culture mainstream and pushing the envelope in terms of vehicular stunts.
In that vein, director Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious 6 is exactly like its predecessors: light on sense, heavy on action and insensibly, effortlessly entertaining.
To recall the labyrinthine twists that make up the Fast and the Furious timeline is like trying to follow the events of Primer, so here’s what you need to know: Once upon a time an FBI agent named Brian (Paul Walker) investigated an illegal street-racing crew led by Dominic (Vin Diesel), and discovered they had hearts of gold. Through a series of adventures he joined them and hooked up with Dominic’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). Now they are one big car family, living off the money they stole in 2011’s Fast Five.
Our sequel begins with Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his band of criminals, who have been hitting military convoys with their homemade cars, stealing parts for an electrical power-destroying device they intend to sell to the highest bidder. Diplomatic Security Service agent Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson) knows the only way to catch criminals in fast cars is with other criminals in even faster cars, and calls upon Dominic’s crew. He promises full pardons if they help, then drops the bomb that Dominic’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was seemingly killed in 2009’s Fast & Furious, is actually alive and working for Shaw.
The cast from nearly every installment of the series is here for the sixth movie: Johnson, Diesel, Walker, Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Gina Carano (of Haywire fame), Sung Kang and Gal Gadot. It even has a cameo with Jason Statham (because, of course, he’s Jason Statham), who signed on for the sequel. While the acting is nothing to hang a movie on, Fast & Furious 6 cuts loose with its belief-defying chases and fantastic fight sequences – because, naturally, all the drivers are also martial artists.
Although the fights are all entertaining, it’s an unmitigated joy to watch Carano, employing her signature MMA moves, whale on Rodriguez. She may be incapable of stringing more than two words together, but Carano is an unparalleled master at combat, and she steals the show with her savage, yet graceful, beatdowns.
It’s also nice to see tar-voiced angel Rodriguez back on the big screen, chewing out punks and looking badass. Vin Diesel still can’t act, but luckily the script only calls for him to recite insane one-liners designed to make you chuckle. The movie even finds surprising heart in Kang and Gadot, whose Han and Gisele navigate the bumpy road of growing old and settling down — as well as a literally bumpy, body-strewn road.
Look, this isn’t Shakespeare. Heck, I’m not going to even claim it’s linear storytelling. But when you walk into a Fast and the Furious movie, it’s with the knowledge that common sense, as Dominic puts it, “walked out the day we was born.” The franchise is essentially Ocean’s 11 in cars: nonsensical plot, silly dialogue and entirely dependent on the stunts and the people populating it. For a series that can basically print its own money, Fast & Furious 6 shows an admirable dedication to topping its predecessors, never phoning it in when it comes to the action.
It’s also fully aware of how ridiculous it is, which goes a long way toward redeeming the giant leaps of faith required to make it through a Fast and the Furious movie. You can’t help but watch Vin Diesel drawl through another non sequitur and realize you’re witnessing a mainstream cult classic in the making. Fast & Furious 6 is a B-movie with a blockbuster budget, a combination that’s endlessly entertaining.
The only downside is that taking the underground-racing culture out of the equation has made the film’s cars less interesting. The best race of the movie is Diesel and Rodriguez’s nighttime London brawl as they rapidly shift gears to avoid hitting cars, landmarks and people. While other scenes might have more muscle (you see the one on the bridge?) or more explosions (you see the one on the bridge?), because of the location and the culture surrounding it, the street race feels like it has the highest stakes. I miss the insane outfits and weirdly specific street rules, and by putting the action on regular streets you lose the adrenaline-pounding charm of the previous movies. But there is still plenty for car-chase enthusiast to love, and if you can’t suspend your disbelief that Interpol would willingly agree to the film’s pardon-scheme setup (it takes a car criminal to catch a car criminal, Interpol!) then bemoaning the types of races they engage in are the least of your concerns.
Fast & Furious 6 opens Friday.