‘Fast and Furious 6’ review: If you have to read the review, you don’t want to see it

The best fictional universe is the one that springs organically from an unassuming seed. Star Trek started life as little more than a mystery-of-the-week in outer space. The saga of Middle-earth was born in a children’s tale that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his children, and later released for the children of the world as The Hobbit. Could anyone have guessed how far Harry Potter would go all the way back in that first book? It’s likely a greater number who would have guessed that the Fast & Furious series would one day claim a well-earned place alongside these juggernauts.

It’s all in the name of high-speed good times.

Fast & Furious 6 roars in this week on a wave of exhaust fumes and thundering explosives. It works perfectly well as a standalone piece, offering theatergoers the sort of escapist power fantasy that dominates multiplexes during the spring and summer months. The ensemble cast, led by Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne Johnson, gives good blockbuster, striking a perfect balance between grinning one-liners and bellowing gravitas. You don’t want this bunch to come to any harm, but you delight in their willingness to throw themselves at it.

Fast & Furious 6 helps to bring the universe-building of its 2011 predecessor, Fast Five, into sharper focus. This isn’t a case of street racing action-turned-ensemble heist. It’s a recognition that the strongest bits of the first four films – namely, the stars – work best as a team. It doesn’t matter why the team comes together, only that they collaborate on something, and chaos ensues.

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In Fast & Furious 6, our fearless gearheads land on the opposite side of a heist. Federal agent Lucas Hobbes (Johnson) is out to catch Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a dishonorably discharged ex-soldier-turned-criminal who has assembled his own ensemble of uniquely talented wheelpersons. The stymied Hobbes turns to his old target-turned-friend Dominic Toretto (Diesel) for help. Toretto’s now-scattered team is the best in the game and, more importantly, Hobbes has some leverage: proof that Dom’s believed-dead ex-girlfriend, Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), is alive and in league with Shaw.

The mind boggles at the revelation that a character believed to have been shot in the head two movies earlier is now doing anything other than that. The eventual explanation requires no small suspension of disbelief, but it also makes a deranged sort of sense in a universe where it is perfectly okay for a pair of NOS-enhanced Dodge Challengers to wield a multi-ton vault behind them like a giant flail. The Fast & Furious series has always had a bit of a strained relationship with the laws of physics, and we can now add in a dysfunctional friendship with medical science as well.

No big deal. It’s all in the name of high-speed good times.

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Fast & Furious 6 works on every level. Longtime fans can geek out heavily on the knowing nods to the series’ past, whether it’s a random character appearance, clarification on some previously murky plot point (pay extra attention to Sung Kang’s Han Lue here), or even a repetition of visual aesthetics. The series’ sixth entry is very much its own story, but it is also clearly cobbled together in the same creative machine shop.

This is a series that embodies fun times at the theater.

The big action works as well. Fans of the insane finale to Fast Five will be pleased to see Fast & Furious 6 soaring to similar heights, and with greater frequency. The more physically talented members of the cast are put to good use as well; Johnson, along with co-star Gina Carano, a former mixed martial artist, and Joe Taslim (The Raid: Redemption), all spend some time on camera mixing it up with their fists. Vehicular mayhem continues to be the real star, however. Fast Five‘s climactic chase through Rio has nothing on the final hour here.

Some bits fall short. Certain plot devices are introduced and then quickly forgotten. One of the more inventive weapons that Shaw’s team employs is a so-called “chip gun” with rounds that attach to a pursuing vehicle and override its internal computer, allowing the weapon’s handler to control it – and the car, by extension – remotely. It comes up once early on in the heat of a chase and then never again, explained away by a bit of dialogue and a couple of humorous scenes.

There’s also a third act twist that never manages to earn its payoff despite the fact that you’d have to be blind to not see it coming. An observant moviegoer will peg a particular character as an eventual betrayer early on, but it’s a belief that is supported less by concrete evidence on the screen and more by a level of familiarity with this style of genre action. When the turncoat flips sides and joins Shaw in front of every other major player, not a single one seems surprised. They and the audience both.

This isn’t to say that Fast & Furious 6 is plagued by poor characterizations. On the contrary, Lin and Morgan work well with their allotted running time to give all of the players the camera time that they need to appease fans. All while building up this new villain and his team. Certain Shaw collaborators are more visible than others, but the story capably juggles the demands of showcasing individual moments while effectively bearing the burden of two ensembles.

All of this gels together around the series’ trademark over-the-top action, which soars further past the top than ever before. The all-too-perfect capper is a final scene that plays out during the end credits sequence which brings new context to a memorable moment from one of the earlier films while confidently setting the stage for this bunch to embark on a seventh outing.

This is a series that embodies fun times at the theater. It is best seen in a packed house, so that your every choking sputter of “holy crap they just did what?!” shock adds to the growing chorus. The universe-building that Fast Five so effectively corralled a full decade into the life of this franchise continues unabated in Fast & Furious 6. There’s still plenty of reason to plunk yourself down in a theater seat and escape for a few hours with Toretto and his wisecracking gang of misfit blowhards.

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