Generally speaking, I don’t bother to see films with the number 6 after their title. In fact, I usually check out after number 3. I figure such films are critic-proof—either you’re a fan of the series or you’re not—and my attendance is not required.
And yet, true confession: I have seen every single Fast & Furious movie (I particularly dug the last one). My loyalty even predates the ampersand. They’re something of a guilty pleasure.
Partly this is because of director Justin Lin, who took over the franchise with the third movie, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (if you’ll recall, this was the one installment that didn’t feature Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, because they apparently had much bigger fish to fry) (no comment). Lin stages expert chase and fight sequences that are ridiculously over-the-top, but strikingly lucid as well. You can actually follow the action. How novel.
But the series has other draws:
There’s, of course, Vin Diesel himself, who acts so rarely these days you can almost believe that he is Toretto, spending his days up to his arms in engine grease and babes (although his magical karaoke rendition of Rihanna’s “Stay” would suggest otherwise). He’s not so much an actor at this point as a poser and a grunter. But to me, he holds a strange allure.
Last film, they wisely added Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the few men who can out-alpha good ol’ Vin, as Detective Hobbs. How Johnson manages to resemble something human beneath all that girth and muscle is beyond me—but lately his body is so cartoonishly bloated with steroids (allegedly!), the other characters are compelled to comment on it (otherwise, his bulk would be the 800-pound Hulk in the corner).
And then there are the women. Of course, women are treated as objects in this series—the men are, too, by the way—prone to wearing tight pants and low-cut shirts (and distractingly awesome leather jackets that need to be in my closet right now). But in some ways, the series is downright progressive in its treatment of female characters. Women in these films are smart and strong and kick major butt. They know how to fix—and drive—suped-up cars and they get into rip-roaring fights that are as visceral and vicious as those of their male counterparts.
There’s no better example of this alpha girl than tough-minded, unsentimental Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Toretto’s one true love, who died in the fourth movie. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that she’s back (with amnesia!) and she’s a welcome presence here, along with Gina Carano (of Haywire), who plays Hobbs’s new partner, and series regulars Gal Gidot and Elsa Pataky. (Jordana Brewster’s Mia, who is almost always treated as the delicate nice girl in need of protection, is the one exception to this rule.)
With all that said, I wish Fast & Furious 6—called the far cooler Furious Six by series fans—was a little bit better. It’s still pretty good. It has a nifty new villain—handsome Luke Evans, playing Shaw, an international criminal—and virtually all the elements that made Fast Five so good, but it feels a little derivative.
In this installment, Hobbs is teaming up with Toretto and his crew to take down Shaw, who has managed to insinuate Letty into his gang of criminals. Hobbs knows that Toretto is terminally loyal to those he loves—according to Shaw, it’s his Achilles heel—so he correctly guesses that Toretto will help him.
The fun sidekicks are all back—including Ludacris, as the genius tech guy, and Tyrese Gibson, as the handsome goof. But the wisecracks aren’t particularly sharp here, except for one genius bit involving a vending machine.
The action is great, as expected (they do this thing with an airplane. . .well you have to see it to believe it) but a few times it compelled me to suspend my disbelief a little more than I was willing to suspend it (wait! There’s no way he could jump out of that speeding car over the bridge, catch her in mid-air like that, and survive, right?).
I have a feeling that the series may have peaked with Fast Five. The descent has clearly begin with Fast & Furious 6. But it’s not a steep decline—just a slight dip. Then again, this is reportedly Justin Lin’s last film of the series, so I worry. Guilty pleasures don’t grow on trees, ya know.