Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Furious 6" (2013)

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Rated PG-13 - Violence, vehicular mayhem, language
Running Time: 130 Minutes

Following the events in Rio that netted career criminal Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and former FBI agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) millions of dollars in stolen drug money, the two men and their growing family have escaped to a non-extradition country to live their lives in peace and luxury. But a series of heists across the globe, executed with extreme precision by a terrorist named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), forces federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) to track down Tom and Brian and ask for their help in catching Shaw.

It seems that Shaw has set his sights on putting together a weapon of great technological power that could blackout an entire country, throwing the economy and society in general into chaos. Terrorist organizations across the globe would pay huge money for such a weapon, and Shaw is only one piece away from completing it. In exchange for full pardons for themselves, family and friends, Dom and Brian agree to take on Shaw's team of highly-trained drivers and operatives.

But there's one big twist that gets Dom's attention: one of Shaw's drivers is none other than Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom's former lover whom he thought killed by Mexican drug runners. Dom and Brian gather their team, including fast-talking Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), tech-wiz Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), street-racer extraordinaire Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), and former Mossad agent Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) to take on Shaw. They're joined, whether they like it or not, by Hobbs and his partner, Riley Hicks (Gina Carano), in the race to stop Shaw from selling his dangerous weapon to the highest bidder. But for Dom, this adventure is more personal: It's a chance at saving the woman he thought he'd lost.

Are you ready? The masters of car carnage are back in the latest "Fast and Furious," the action franchise that somehow manages to buck the curve and keep getting better. While most film franchises seem to suffer from the law of diminishing returns, constantly repeating themselves, the "Fast and Furious" films, while maintaining their atmosphere of dumb bravado and casual disregard for physics, constantly strive for reinvention. What started out as a "Point Break" knockoff with cars has now become a massive series of summer blockbusters, each distinct from the last that continually leave its characters in new and different situations for their next adventure.

"Fast Five" reinvented the series even further, switching the franchise into the heist genre, with the characters forming their team and pulling off the daring robbery of an entire safe full of drug money. Not content to repeat themselves, "Furious Six" casts the characters in the role of something of an international police force, hunting down a group of terrorists portrayed humorously as the mirror versions of themselves. Almost entirely gone is the series' focus on underground street racing (though there's a great London scene here that feels a lot like the series honoring its roots), replaced with grand-scale, over-the-top mayhem. Car after car is wrecked and smashed in brutally entertaining fashion. Cars are flipped off the road and through buildings, run over by tanks, smashed off bridges, lifted from the ground by planes. It's big, and it's loud, and it's ridiculous, and it's fun.

All is not rosy, though. While I must applaud the attempts at character development and plot progression, the fact is that while these things happen, they're not particularly deep. There's some rather basic philosophizing that the script constitutes as "depth" but is mostly skin-deep. This is fine because it works, but it can occasionally run the risk of feeling like the movie thinks it's better than it actually is.

Worse, the method of Letty's return is a cheap soap-opera antic involving, get this, amnesia. I applaud the film for running with it full-bore, since that commitment is pretty much the only thing that keeps entire idea from being eye-rollingly stupid... but only just so. It's cheesy, though the film manages some solid work for Rodriguez and Diesel out of it.

Otherwise, the focus here is purely on watching these characters get into wildly absurd situations at high speeds. "Furious Six" is perhaps slightly less entertaining than "Fast Five" if only because that film was such a surprise that now we kind of know something big and ridiculous is going to come. The movie's centerpiece action sequence involving a tank tearing up a highway in Spain doesn't quite reach the level of WTF-ery that made "Fast Five's" vault dragging sequence such a hoot. The film's climax is an almost ridiculously lengthy chase down a runway on a military base, but stretches the already-strained credibility a little too far. Exactly how long is this runway? Because it is a lengthy, lengthy action sequence that, while entertaining, seems to imply that a plane is taxiing down a runway that has to be several miles long.

Director Justin Lin, who has shepherded the franchise since 2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," bows out of the series with another fun installment. The action is big and bold, and only occasionally gets lost in cuts that are too fast or shots that are too shaky. The script has a greater variety of action sequences, putting more of the characters into fist-fights and gunfights in and out of cars. If you've been enjoying this series so far, you will continue to do so here.

And be sure to stick around through the credits for the seventh film, which features a cameo appearance that will have action fans itching for the next installment.