BY VAN ROBERTS
The latest installment in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise “Fast and Furious 6” (*** OUT OF ****) resembles a James Bond extravaganza more than a urban epic about illegal street racing. Some cinematic franchises live and some die, and I’m still surprised that this one didn’t collapse when Vin Diesel refused to star in John Singleton’s “2 Fast 2 Furious.” Afterward, the second sequel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006) looked like a surefire blow-out. Channing Tatum slipped behind the wheel for Asian antics, but Vin Diesel graced the end credits scene, imparting his official blessing. Diesel reprised his role as streetwise Dominic Toretto in “Fast and Furious” (2009) and teamed up again with FBI Agent Bryan O’Connor (Paul Walker). You can always tell a franchise by the number of characters that each entry cuts loose, and the “Fast and the Furious” has been conservative. Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) died in this outing, and our heroes exacted maximum vengeance on the villain. “Fast Five” (2011) reunited Dom and Bryan along with everybody else. Our heroes went to Rio de Janeiro and stole a bank vault with enough loot in it to relax. In a tacked on, end credits scene, the filmmakers revealed that Letty hadn’t died! The franchise sacrificed one obnoxious character, Vince (Matt Schulze), who radiated all the charisma of a zombie. “Five Fast” introduced U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and provided our heroes somebody to elude. Hobbs returns for the sixth “Fast and Furious” opus, and Letty reappears. The revelation that Letty suffered from a bout of amnesia after a near-death experience sounds like something from the Universal Pictures’ franchise “Bourne Identity.” Incidentally, Universal also produces “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. Until “Fast 5,” the “Fast and the Furious” movies didn’t knock off any of their own like the “Rocky” movies. “Fast and Furious 6,” however, doubles the toll, shuffling off two additions going as far back as “Tokyo Drift.” Of course, we won’t know for sure if they’re kaput until “Fast and Furious 7” comes out.
When “Fast and Furious 6” opens, Dom (Vin Diesel of “Riddick”) and Elena (Elsa Pataky) are living in the Canary Islands with Brian (Paul Walker of “Pleasantville”) and his new wife, Domini’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster of “D.E.B.S.”), who has just had a baby boy. Nobody can extradite them. Eventually, Hobbs shows up and hands Dom an envelope with surveillance photos of Letty. Initially, Dom wants to make it a one-man mission to rescue Letty alone, but Hobbs halts him in his tracks. Not only does Hobbs need Dom, but he also needs Dom’s team. Mia insists Brian accompany her big brother while Dom’s new girlfriend Elena urges him to find out if Letty is really alive. Meantime, word reaches Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson of “Baby Boy”), who skipped both “Tokyo Drift” and “Fast and Furious.” Gibson served as the comic relief in the last two, and he conjures up laughs galore in “Fast and Furious 6.” Computer whiz kid Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges of “Four Brothers’) fields the same phone call that Roman received and that Han Lue (Sung Kang of “Better Luck Tomorrow”) and his girlfriend forever Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot of “Fast and Furious”) are handed when the Tokyo Police surround them. Before you can say no way, they are back together, and Hobbs explains that Letty is part of a high tech gang of criminals headed up by a notorious former British S.A.S. Officer, Major Owen Shaw (Luke Evans of “Immortals”) who behaves like an adversary from a 007 adventure. Happily, “Cellular” scenarist Chris Morgan is back for his fourth “Fast and Furious” along with helmer Justin Lin. These two have turned the franchise around and taken it beyond what anybody could have imagined after “2 Fast 2 Furious.” Shaw is no slouch as villains go, and he keeps Hobbs and our heroes hopping through hoops. Interestingly, when our heroes fall back on surveillance cameras to track Shaw through London, they complain about how you cannot spit in London without a camera catching you in the act. Shaw is the kind of villain who maintains complete control and rarely makes a mistake. Clearly, he isn’t prepared when Letty spots Dom and wounds him with a bullet in the shoulder. Our heroine cannot remember Dom because she woke up with no memory in a hospital after her accident in “Fast and Furious.” This is when Shaw added her to his crew. Shaw lives by a code that he calls ‘precision,’ and he boots those off his crew when they don’t measure up to his high standards. Cyber-terrorist that he is, Shaw is searching for a microchip which will enable him to shut down U.S. military computers for 24 hours. Naturally, Dom and company demand nothing less than full pardons to help out Hobbs.
Nothing about this franchise is remotely realistic, and director Justin Lin embraces “the ridiculousness” to forge more suspense and tension. As Dom tells Letty at one point when he saves her life during an incredible stunt, you have to take everything on faith. As it turns out, not only do the filmmakers take everything on faith, but the audiences also seem to be doing the same. In the last “Fast and Furious” thriller, our heroes dragged a safe through exotic downtown Rio. Just about everything that unfolds in this outrageously entertaining but hopelessly predictable nail-biter is larger-than-life. A duel with a modern army tank on a high-rise bridge jammed with civilian traffic and a spectacular nighttime encounter between our tenacious heroes and a gigantic cargo jet that is reminiscent of the flaming demise of the Hindenburg airship make this movie worth the price of admission. Anybody who wants to take a break from reality will enjoy this fast-paced melodrama with one or two surprises.
BY VAN ROBERTS