review furious 6

It seems every summer is ruled by comic book movies these days, and 2013 is set to be no different. Iron Man 3 fired the first shot, and titles like Man of Steel and The Wolverine are waiting in the wings. One big film curiously missing from the conversation though is Furious Six, but just because its characters aren’t splayed across the covers of Marvel or DC comics doesn’t mean they’re not indestructible superheroes here to save the day.

O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) are living it up in Spain alongside their honeys (Jordana Brewster and Elsa Pataky respectively) thanks to the massive score from their adventure in Rio. Their hulking nemesis Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) appears on their doorstep one morning with a simple deal. If they help him catch a criminal scourge who’s been stealing top secret military hardware and breaking traffic laws then Hobbs will grant them all full pardons back in the USA. The icing on the muscle car-shaped cake is a recent photo he shows them of Dom’s ex, the long thought dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s now running with the bad guy.

Fans of Fast Five will be thrilled to know that the ridiculously over the top antics here make that film look like a pledge-week episode of NPR’s Car Talk. And yeah, I know that’s a radio show. It’s bigger, dumber and more fun than its predecessor, and it knows exactly what its audience wants. That last bit can’t salvage the film’s numerous issues, but it’s a nice change of pace seeing a film that rewards fans instead of simply servicing them.

Further story details could be shared without concern of spoilers, but I’ve already spent more time on it here than screenwriter Chris Morgan did. The entire thing boils down to a series of set-pieces connected by tenuous attempts at nonsensical plot strands and unconvincing character turns, but really, who cares?

Instead what matters is director Justin Lin‘s unspoken mantra of fun world building above all else.

He accomplishes this in several ways, and the first thing to go is any concern about things not making sense or being believable. No attempt is made to explain the ludicrous plot turns or action sequences, and instead we’re just left accepting that the team would expend immense effort to capture Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) only to release him and then immediately pursue him again. And that the British government would be perfectly okay arming a bunch of American car thieves to help capture him on the streets of London. And that human bodies can collide at 80 miles per hour without injury. And that there are runways over eight miles long.

You get the idea. It’s a dumb movie, but its embrace of its own willful ignorance is appreciated in a summer where other blockbusters try to pretend otherwise.

In place of plot logic and the vaguest hint of realism we get a symphony of crashing, crushing, exploding metal and muscle and sweat-fueled fight scenes. There are no fewer than three large-scale chase scenes that shake the screen with a mix of practical car stunts and some (unfortunate) CGI assistance. Not even one involving a tank that leaves dozens of flattened cars and civilians in its wake is enough to shake the film’s smiling, jokey spirit. Gina Carano and The Raid‘s Joe Taslim join in the fun delivering some hard-hitting and lightning-quick beatdowns that occasionally suffer from too closely cropped edits.

The action moves so fast that most of the ladies have no time to stop and eat a sandwich. Carano is the sole exception, and it’s no coincidence that she’s the most attractive woman here. Sure, it helps that she’s also a blast to watch in fight scenes, but the healthy body image is equally appealing. Her acting hasn’t improved much since the criminally underseen Haywire, but that actually makes her fit right in with this crew where pretty much no one has been cast for their acting abilities.

Instead it’s all about personality and eye candy for both the male and female audience members. Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang (Han!), Gal Gadot and Kim Kold round out the cast, and all of them in one way or other help ensure the film is never boring.

To circle back around to the superhero mention above the later films in the franchise are also notable for taking a Marvel-like approach to connecting the films through character turns and end-credit stingers. Events in one often lead heavily into the next with the recent bonus scenes creating a real sense of anticipation. This installment continues that trend with an end tease guaranteed to elicit cheers in packed movie houses.

Furious Six won’t win any new fans left unconvinced by the franchise’s earlier and glorious transformation from street racing niche to international caper/big action series, but audiences entertained by ridiculous, wholesale destruction at high speeds will once again be on board for another ride. It’s a bumpy trip to be sure, but I for one have already reserved a seat for & 7 (or whatever the hell they’re calling part seven).

The Upside: Embraces its own stupidity instead of denying it; London chase; fun and genuinely thrilling action; tank chase; Gina Carano and Joe Taslim; end-credits scene

The Downside: Increased reliance on CGI during big action scenes; some poorly edited fights; plot makes zero sense; complete disregard for physics and logic; character drama fails to connect; apparent indifference to mass civilian casualties

On the Side: Justin Lin is ceding the director’s chair for part 7 to James Wan. Yes, that’s right, the guy behind Saw and Insidious is directing the next Fast & Furious film.

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