Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: Fast & Furious 6

All who thumbs their noses at the Fast & Furious franchise just don’t get it.  Everyone from the suits to the creative team to the cast and crew know that these films aren’t Weinstein material and that no Awards Season campaign is going to be launched for an Oscar push.  The movies have and will always be about fast cars, big action sequences, and just enough sentimentality to make you care about the characters.  Each film has gone bigger than its predecessor and at times less believable, but that’s part of the fun and why it is a billion dollar franchise for Universal.  The latest entry in the series - Fast & Furious 6, proves to be the biggest and best of the lot.

The plot finds Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs seeking out Vin Diesel’s Toretto for helping in capturing an international arms dealer played by Luke Evans.  The hook to this deal is the reappearance of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Toretto’s former paramour who was thought to be deceased.  With an offer of immunity on the table, Toretto and O’Conner (Paul Walker) reassemble their team to assist Hobbs’ manhunt and to bring their lost friend Letty home.

If it sounds like heavy stuff to you, then you’re wrong.  No matter what gravitas may seem to hang over the heads of the protagonists, this film is paced far too fast to take notice.  No, what the premise actually is, is a good launching point from which to thrust the crew onto an adrenaline-infused ride.  Since director Justin Lin first jumped into the franchise with the underrated Tokyo Drift, he has done a masterful job of framing the action steering this cast away from its racing roots towards heist narratives.  The continuity between franchise and director over the last four films shows itself well in the way that Fast & Furious 6 continuously ties back to its predecessors; something ardent fans of the franchise will appreciate.

And while Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Dwayne Johnson get top billing, Fast 6 is very much an ensemble film.  One could in fact make the argument that some of the best scenes unfold while the big three are off camera.  Thus each member of the cast deserves a bit of ink (and an individual grade):

Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto (B-): Diesel has played this role in just over four films spanning well over a decade.  While it seems like at times he is it on cruise control, it doesn’t affect his performance because: a.) It’s a roll that he could probably play in his sleep and b.) it’s not like the he is being tasked with playing Hamlet.

Paul Walker as Brian O’Connor (B-): The one constant throughout Walker’s career has never been his inability to act well.  There’s one role and only one role that he can play – Brian O’Connor.  This may be a product of his playing it fives times or because the writers tailor it to his persona.  Regardless, there’s not a lot of heavy lifting for him in this film and that allows him to be adequate.

Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs (B): If you tracked all the cringe worthy lines in this movie most would have to be attributed to Johnson’s Hobbs, but that is partly a byproduct of how his character is written.  He’s big; he’s militant; he’s over the top; and Johnson goes all in to portray him.  And as always, Johnson is downright entertaining.  Seriously, when was the last time you saw one of his movies and were not entertained?

Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce (B+): As usual, Gibson provides the comic relief and gets some of the best lines in this film and what he does with those lines is absolutely steal the show.  While no one will ever convince me that he is a good actor, I admit that he is very good at precisely the brand of shtick he brings to this franchise.

Sung Kang as Han (A-):  If Gibson is 1A in this movie, then Kang is 1B.  Try as the film does to make Vin Diesel’s and Paul Walker’s storylines serve as the heart of the movie, it’s Kang’s Han storyline that really drives that train.  Kang runs the acting gamut from comedy to physicality to emotional sensitivity and in doing so delivers the most complete performance in the movie.

Gal Gadot as Gisele (B): She’s not given the most robust role in the film but Gadot shows she is more than eye candy this time out.  She, along with Sung Kang, provides a different element to this movie, because in a franchise that constantly brings the same characters back into the same kind of fray each time out, Gadot (along with Kang) bring their characters on a journey that has a beginning, middle, and an end. 

Jordana Brewster as Mia O’Connor (C): Brewster is fairly irrelevant in this movie and serves as barely more than window dressing.

Chris Ludacris Bridges as Tej (C+): See also Jordana Brewster.  Okay, that’s a little harsh as Ludacris has his moments to shine occasionally, but in a robust cast with big personalities, his Tej falls a bit by the wayside.

Michelle Rodgiquez as Letty (C-):  I was never been a big fan of Michelle Rodriguez as an actress because I have always thought of her as a one trick pony.  Judging by her work in this film, she still is.

Luke Evans as Shaw (B-): I have seen Evans in some mediocre films (and roles) and despite this I have remained convinced that he is a very good actor.  After watching Fast 6, I am still waiting for him to prove me right.

Gina Carano as Riley (C-):  Carano is a beast.  Her MMA background and her work in Haywire says as much, but every time she speaks a line I am reminded that she is not an actresses.

So with all this being said, I will tell you that Justin Lin’s last hurrah in this franchise is a worthy send off.  The best films happen when the director loves the source material and respects its fan base and that is precisely what is happening in Fast & Furious 6.  It’s not a deep narrative and there are a few big plot holes and leaps in logic, but if you buy a ticket to this film looking for taut coherent storytelling, then you are stepping into the wrong theater.  If you are a fan of this franchise or looking for some good summer popcorn fare, then you will absolutely enjoy this movie on the big screen, as as there are some very impressive action sequences.  If you’re more of a “This is 40” or “Crazy Stupid Love” fan, then you may want to wait for this title on Netflix or maybe take a pass altogether.  And for all you hardcore Fast & Furious fans, fear not.  Number seven is already slated for a July 2014 release.

Standout Performance: Tyrese Gibson for the reasons mentioned above.  Honorable mention goes to Sung Kang.


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