Director: Justin Lin
Runtime: 130 minutes
In the decades since Jaws began the tradition of summer blockbusters, a hierarchy has evolved among the big-budget tentpole films that studios roll out between May and August. At the top, you have the likes of The Dark Knight, a dark and brooding epic that blends popcorn thrills with operatic grandeur. The next tier is the lighter, comedic action fare that still has some genuine smarts to it, like the first Iron Man and Pirates of the Caribbean films. And then there's the bottom tier of the (successful) summer blockbuster caste system: the excessive dumb fun.
It's in that bottom tier where Fast and Furious 6, the latest entry in the mega-successful Fast and Furious franchise, gleefully resides. 2011's Fast Five was a surprise return to form (and the series' first film to garner positive critical consensus) for the series. Furious 6 (its official on-screen title, for some reason) builds on Five's momentum, and takes it to ridiculous new heights. To examine the film is to find a piece of cinematic junk food. But what awfully tasty and satisfying junk food it is.
Opening roughly a year after Fast Five, 6 reintroduces DEA agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson's biceps, and presumably the rest of him), along with his new partner Riley (Gina Carano). The pair are trying - and failing - to capture criminal mastermind Shaw (Luke Evans, all cheekbones and pervy facial hair). Shaw, an ex-black ops soldier, has been stealing technology to build a super weapon worth billions of dollars. Desperate, Hobbs turns to Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), and their crew for help. His leverage? A photo of former companion Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who presumably died in the events of 2009's Fast and Furious.
Not content with simply illegal racing or heists, this new entry has decided to turn the insanity up to 11 by making its protagonists super spies. It's part of what allows Furious 6 to reach some thrilling and ludicrous heights. Don't worry, there's still plenty of driving, and even a race, but it's all dressed up as a lunkheaded espionage action thrill-ride. It's terrifically goofy, and terrifically entertaining. Returning director Justin Lin once again creates a constantly engaging experience out of the paper thin material. Whether you're laughing with the film, or at it, the entire piece has been designed to be nothing more than shameless entertainment. Lin and company succeed with flying colors.
I could talk about the overripe dialogue, or the ridiculous explanation for Letty's reappearance. I could mention my problems with a relatively unnecessary subplot that sends Brian undercover in a Los Angeles prison. But, with its mostly crisp action and outstanding sound work, Furious 6 moves along so briskly that the legitimate flaws in structure and execution barely have time to register. Even the nighttime driving scenes, with their murky blue/black color palettes, shine thanks to the nifty custom cars that Shaw and his crew use as they tear through the streets of London. The hand-to-hand combat is also pumped up, with several major fights resulting in some of the film's most satisfying action beats.
But, at its core, the franchise has always been about the cars. And, when it comes to gorgeous cars doing over-the-top stunt work, it's hard to top Furious 6. The film's last two set-pieces are among the most kinetic and hilariously overblown ever committed to film. One involves a tank, and the other a plane. And one climaxes with a stunt that is the biggest middle finger to physics imaginable. Both are worth the price of admission. It's simultaneously thrilling and laugh out loud funny. Diesel and Walker may be slumming it, but the supporting cast seems to be having a ball with their broad material (especially Tyrese Gibson). Johnson also continues to be a valuable new asset to the franchise, while Carano adds an extra layer of female punch (literally) by putting her mixed martial arts training to great use.
In a sense, Furious 6 is both the best Fast and Furious movie, as well as the best parody of the franchise. It is a film so willing to do anything to entertain, and it's all the more remarkable that Lin pulls it off. There's not an ounce of substance in the entire thing, but it hardly matters because, even at 130 minutes, it's such a riotously good time. Usually, when films try to function as simple dumb fun, they provide too much stupidity and not enough fun, rendering them a chore to sit through. With Fast and Furious 6, the racing-turned-racing-spy franchise has hit the absolute perfect balance. It's a bottom-tier blockbuster in the absolute best sense of the term.
Sheer entertainment value: A