Fast & Furious 6
"Fast & Furious 6" plays out like an action junkie's encyclopedia. It has painstakingly choreographed hand-to-hand combat; John Woo-style gun battles; cars, tanks, and planes, with tanks chasing cars, and cars chasing planes. It has the Rock. It has director Justin Lin, back for the fourth straight entry in the series, trying to top the can-you-top-this aesthetic he established in "Five." It has more action sequences than I can remember, and more instances of deliriously inspired Looney Tunes physics than I have space to relate.
It's ridiculous, in the truest sense of the word. It doesn't just cement the "Fast" movies into position as the most gloriously big-and-dumb of Hollywood's menagerie of big-and-dumb franchises; it cements them in place, and then drives a car through the cement.
One of the innumerable set pieces comes when the baddies, led by Luke Evans' former Spec-Ops soldier Owen Shaw, hijack a tank. They plow over cars while rolling through an elevated highway, leaving casualties and hilariously junked scraps of metal in their wake. Eventually, the standard "Fast" crew - here repped by Tyrese, Paul Walker, and Vin Diesel's series lynchpin Dominic Torretto - catch up with him. They tie a vehicle to the cannon of the tank, let it drag behind Shaw, and then use their cars to try to bounce it over the guardrail, hoping that it will drag the tank down with it. It's like watching a couple kids trying to throw a bag of bricks over a wall. And this scene isn't even the climax. To borrow a phrase, this shit hasn't even gotten real yet.
Long before the shit gets real, and shortly after the title card, we're re-introduced to our cast of regulars. They're all living comically large after the $100 million+ heist in Rio that was depicted in the previous entry. But Rock's DSS agent Luke Hobbs finds Toretto living in Spain's Canary Islands, and quickly hands him something we saw in "Five's" post-credits cliffhanger: a photo of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez,) thought dead since "Fast Four," but apparently alive, well, and working with Shaw. Offering him a complete pardon for prior misdeeds, Hobbs easily convinces the increasingly quiet Diesel to reassemble his team. And so he does, with a phone call: catching Ludacris's Tej playing Robin Hood in Miami; Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) double-fisting handguns in Tokyo; and Tyrese's Roman on a private jet with a gaggle of supermodels.
Toretto goes to find Walker's former-fed Brian O'Connor himself; Brian and Dom's sister Mia recently had a child. It offers one of the film's most telling moments. Walker's goofy face, reminding us of a blonde Keanu Reeves, lights up as Dom rolls down the driveway. He grabs his baby's tiny arm, and starts excitedly waving it, lightly intoning, "Hi Uncle Dom!" As they briefly exchange some pithy car-talk, Diesel begins to smile, first unreservedly, and soon enough, goofily. We can't even get a "Spider-Man" movie that isn't drowning in studio-mandated "grit" and snark, but this team has no such pretensions.
Along with Diesel, who clearly relishes his role as shepherd of the series, you can probably credit Lin for that. It took him a few tries to get this right - his "Tokyo Drift" is an involving teen movie, but hardly an integral part of the series; and "Four" was a painfully self-serious 'Post-Nolan' effort - but "Six," like "Five," crackles and pops with the glee of big budget filmmaking. It embraces Hollywood hugeness with a pro-wrestler-sized bear hug. If "Five" re-jigged the series by putting its machinations on steroids, then "Six" re-ups on the cycle. When we get to the inevitable street race scene, the frame flashes back-and-forth from black as if in a hallucinogenic fervor, catching only short skirts and sultry supermodels in its blink. We're not even on planet Earth; we're in a car magazine.
And yet Lin manages to keep it all grounded in some form of tangible reality, even if its not our own. He manages to keep us laughing along with him instead of at him. He gives gives us a placeholder plot - Shaw and his crew are chasing after a military device known only as "the component" - it's seen only in the form of a briefcase - reminiscent of the shallowest efforts of Hong Kong spectacle cinema. But it doesn't leave you wanting for more; the empty-headed "plot" isn't a lazy cheat, it's an excuse for a rush of car chases, fights, set pieces, and practically shot collisions that feel no need for narrative. Like I said: Big, dumb, and gloriously so. It's dispensing of narrative feels downright satirical; it's experimental cinema by way of Michael Bay.
The Taiwainese-born Lin is a clear student of the game. He takes his set-piece-after-set-piece structure from the never-ending thrills of films by Golden Harvest stalwarts like Sammo Hung or Jackie Chan, his unrelenting and unapologetic homoerotic tone from the works of John Woo (a passage from "The Killer" is quoted verbatim), and his directing chops from wherever he can find them. The casting proves that he knows where his bread is buttered: Gina Carano ("Haywire") shows up as Rock's new partner, and Joe Taslim ("The Raid") as a member of Shaw's crew. He's not just casting, he's recruiting. Lin may not be trying to impose an authorial voice on these films, but he's ripping off the very best.
But it's not out of greed; it's out of a love for the craft, out of the joy he seems to have found in big-budget filmmaking, and out of the bliss that comes with blowing shit up. A film set is, after all, "the largest train set a boy can ever have." And Justin Lin is having a hell of a lot of fun smashing these trains together. If anything, the too-muchness may be his Achille's heel - unlike the last film's laser-focus, here he crosscuts, Nolan style, between two, three, sometimes even four simultaneous throwdowns. It gets exhausting, and personally, I preferred the linearity of "Five." But his ambition - and the exuberance he feels in achieving it - can't be denied. You can feel it on screen, and that goes a long way.
In contrast, you can feel Zach Galifianikis, behind every scene of every "Hangover" movie, despising himself, and justifying his painfully broad performance by way of the attention it'll bring to his stand-up career. You see Robert Downey, snarking off in every line of "Iron Man," counting the houses he'll buy with the cash. You see JJ Abrams, ignoring the entire history of "Star Trek" to instead make another quote-unquote "timely" piece of commercial post-apocalypse porn.
But not this team. Not Lin, and not his actors, either. And that's what separates the "Fast" films from almost everything else the studios will put out this summer. It's in scenes like "Hi Uncle Dom!" that you can see it: These guys and gals truly enjoy these pictures. So do we.