Few franchises hit their sweet spot like the "Fast & Furious" films. Ostensibly mere car flicks, they're fueled less by nitrous-injected V8s than by hip-hop, street fashion, video-game violence and, most important, a multiethnic cast. Unlike the Eurocentric Bond films, the "Fast" films speak the lingua franca of a global youth culture that stretches from Los Angeles to Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro. All those hot spots, so diverse yet somehow so alike, have served as colorfully blurred backdrops in these movies' rearview mirrors.
The series also has ambition. In 2011 it aimed beyond its demographic with "Fast Five," a bona fide heist movie. Transforming its hot-rodding heroes into high-tech thieves, "Fast Five" became the franchise's top earner, pulling in $625 million worldwide. It was also an artistic high point, a tour-de-force of inspired stuntwork and creative property damage.
"Fast & Furious 6" continues the push into new genres, though it inevitably feels like a comedown. Partly, it's an espionage thriller, with ex-con Dominic Toretto (series veteran Vin Diesel) and his gear-head crew helping federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) chase international criminal Shaw (Luke Evans). It's also a soap opera: Dominic's dead girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), is alive! The opening minutes of exposition are furious but not fast enough.
Once the gears mesh, however, things begin to hum. There's hardware aplenty: a cyborgian Formula One racer, a tank, an enormous airplane harpooned like Moby-Dick. Meanwhile, it's the tough, soulful Rodriguez ("Lost") who provides the premium unleaded. Only Rodriguez could butt heads with Gina Carano (the MMA fighter-actress of "Haywire," playing Hobbs' partner) and then pull off a surprisingly tender scene with Diesel, who murmurs suggestive metaphors like "You lose traction and the back end kicks out." Kudos also to new fight choreographer Olivier Schneider ("Rust & Bone") for staging some white-knuckle beatdowns.
"Fast & Furious 6" is a pass-the-baton movie: Three-time director Justin Lin is reportedly bowing out, and it looks like some members of the cast -- which includes Paul Walker, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris -- will not return. A newcomer, whose identity won't be spoiled here, appears at the end. "Fast & Furious 7" is scheduled for July 2014.
PLOT America's favorite car thieves join forces to take down an international criminal.
RATING PG-13 (violence, language, skimpy outfits)
BOTTOM LINE A comedown from the high of "Fast Five," but the physics-be-damned stuntwork and girl-on-girl beatdowns keep this series the guiltiest of pleasures.
Director Justin Lin's explosive idea
The idea came screeching into director Justin Lin's imagination in 2009: a fiery escape scene featuring a muscle car that crashes out of an airplane during takeoff.
In production at the time on "Fast & Furious" -- the franchise's fourth installment -- he commissioned digital "previsualization" artists to mock up a rendering even though the stunt did not fit the movie and was too expensive to film.
Two years on, the scene didn't make the cut for Lin's 2011 sequel, 'Fast Five," either. "The technology wasn't ready yet, and I couldn't find the right story to tell it in," the director explained. "Everything's limitless. But you have to make sure the sequence fits organically into the journey. I would never stick it into a movie just because it's cool."
Audiences can finally catch Lin's explosive car deplanement with the release of "Fast & Furious 6." Vin Diesel can be seen smashing his Dodge Charger SRT8 through the nose of a Soviet-era cargo aircraft moments before the plane takes off.
It's just one of the movie's nearly 20 adrenaline-punched scenes. In another sequence, a criminal mastermind commandeers a tank and proceeds to level roughly 250 cars on a Spanish highway.
-- Los Angeles Times