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Non-Review Review: The Fast & The Furious 6

The ideal The Fast & The Furious film could only properly be summated with hand gestures and poorly improvised sound effects. “Rrrrrrr….” and then (wavy hand movement) and then “smack!” and then (index finger jams into opposite palm), followed a “bb’tccccch…” and (outward gesture of hand indicating explosion). Fast Five came close to being that perfect macho car chase film, one less concerned with plot and performance than a riveting high-octane spectacle treating its human cast as much like props as the vehicles they drive.

The Fast & The Furious 6 backs away a great deal from the charm of the previous film. There’s the same dumb action set pieces delivered in a charmingly intense manner by Justin Lin, but the script feels over-plotted. There are lots of big emotional moments between an ensemble that really wasn’t built to give those sorts of performances. There are lots of shocking revelations from events several films earlier. There are lots of personal conversations where Lin has no idea what to do with the camera but circle around his actors and hope that the audience doesn’t get too bored.

Not so fast...

Not so fast…

When it works, it is great fun. It ratchets up the action set pieces well past the point of absurdity, to the point where reason and logic can only be fleetingly glimpsed in the rear-view mirror. This is a franchise built for speed. However, The Fast & The Furious 6 suffers because it wants to turn the roaring testosterrific sports car into a family sedan.

Lin is actually quite a solid action director. His set pieces are as well-choreographed here as they were in Fast Five, but they just feel like their more spaced out – the movie struggles to hold itself together with a runtime over two hours. Lin works best when he doesn’t have to rely on his actors. An early chase sequence through London sees police cars treated like pinballs. A late highlight features a tank riding down a crowded highway. The climax features one of the longest runways ever captured in film, featuring a plane taking off for almost twenty minutes.

By hook or by crook?

By hook or by crook?

These sequences are audacious and charming. They are completely illogical and fall apart under the least bit of scrutiny. Can a tank really drive that fast? How come Luke Evans’ villain, who was a mercenary a moment ago, is not a psychotic sociopath? How come the fights always end up girl-on-girl? Is that really how Interpol works? Wait, so NATO is cool with that? Why are they doing that thing if they’re blocking the villain’s cellphone signal? Is the possibility that Interpol might beat him to the punch the only reason the Rock should be worried that his “enhanced interrogation” of a goon was recorded?

And yet, despite these questions, there’s a skill to the way Lin constructs his set pieces. The laws of physics become mere suggestions for the Rock and for Vin Diesel as they pull off stunts that would make Superman blush. However, there are enough explosions and Lin maintains enough intensity that the audience is willing to go along with it. There is a definite level of craft to how well Lin works with the film itself, staging these sequences and even putting together a credits sequence montage that effectively sums up everything you need to know about the film without the use of language or dialogue.

A flying finish?

A flying finish?

However, Lin is completely lost at sea when he’s asked to handle the actors involved in the film. This wasn’t really a problem in Fast Five, when the characters felt like accessories slotted into a standard plot as an excuse for gratuitous amounts of testosterone. However, The Fast & The Furious 6 makes the mistake of trying to be character-driven. Lin very clearly doesn’t know how to deal with this. One of the key emotional moments of the film revolves around two characters talking, but Lin spins the camera so fast that it’s almost nauseating.

Then again, it isn’t as if Lin can entirely trust his cast to deliver emotional pay-off. The ensemble is actually fairly charming, taken as a whole. The actors have worked together enough that there is a casual chemistry which lends the group scenes a certain surreal energy. One of the funniest moments in the film is a quick sight gag when we discover how one of our plucky bandits has labelled Hobbs’ number in his phone. It feels organic and almost natural.

Evans help us...

Evans help us…

The problem is that none of the cast are especially strong actors on their own merits, so constructing a story about family and honour and obligations ties a pretty heavy anchor around the movie’s neck. Paul Walker is nothing more than a walking prop, his movements holding a baby in the film’s opening minutes feeling stilted and forced. Vin Diesel has a certain amount of big screen charisma, but he can’t wring any drama from the movie’s reunion subplot. The Rock is a dispenser of sage advice (“you don’t just pick up Owen Shaw like he’s groceries”), but everything he says has a very rehearsed feel to it.

The film goes to great pains to tie everything together. There are various references and appearances from characters from previous instalments, and an attempt to tie this movie’s villain into the fabric of the franchise. There’s lots of stock footage and a returning face reveals that Owen Shaw was obviously the man behind the man behind the man. Which feels not only like lazy writing, but also needlessly convoluted. All these elements create a drag which slows the movie during its dialogue- or emotion-heavy sequences.

Between the Rock and a hard case...

Between the Rock and a hard case…

And then there’s the movie’s portrayal of London, which feels wonderfully simplistic in a “this is the strangest travelogue ever” sort of way. It feels almost like an educational tour of the city, offering a trip to another dimension where all the landmarks are within a few seconds of each other, and the cast offer helpful factoids like “this is the worst city in the world to commit a crime” and “firearms are illegal here.”

There’s almost always a historical or tourist site visible in the background of various shots, as if to remind viewers that, yes, the film is still set in London. Local law enforcement is all but absent, apart from when the bad guys need to throw around some weight to prove that they are a menace, and it seems like these car-jackers don’t need any real cooperation or oversight from the British police force. There’s even a fight sequence in the Underground, which evokes a comparison to Skyfall.

Driven by Diesel...

Driven by Diesel…

Indeed, the whole thing takes on a very weird “Bond movie” vibe, one which feels at odds with the attempt to tell an intimate family drama. Never mind the sudden resurrection of a long-lost loved one, the bad guy is stealing… well, satellite-y stuff. There’s talk of chips and EMPs and various other jargon, and there’s a sense that our road warriors have moved well past drug cartels and bank robbers. There is weird “spy movie” feel to the film, and I’d be lying if I said it felt entirely comfortable. It feels like an attempt to do a movie like GoldenEye or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but with fast cars and Vin Diesel.

Ironically, it actually works much better than the last “Vin Diesel does James Bond” film, xXx.

The dirty half-dozen...

The dirty half-dozen…

The Fast & The Furious 6 is actually good dumb fun for quite a lot of its runtime, but the overwrought character soap opera subplots put the brakes on any attempt to equal the giddy thrill of the last instalment. It’s still good fun if you’re in the mood for brainless action, but it’s nowhere near the distelled testosterone of the previous entry in the series.

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2 Responses

  1. Can’t say if this is an accurate (non)review or not since I’ve yet to see the movie., but it’s well written and well expressed. It just suffers due to one important lack of detail–

    –NOT ENOUGH CARANO!

    That is all.

    • There can never be enough Carano!

      I think she got a little unfairly treated by the script. I won’t say more, but it felt like her character was particularly squeezed into a niche in the story rather than existing because Gina Carano is awesome and should appear in more films.

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