With a flying head-butt to end all flying head-butts, Vin Diesel has taken the "Fast & Furious" franchise into that rare cinematic air reserved for the likes of "Star Wars," "Rocky" and "Police Academy." As of this weekend, you can watch a "Fast & Furious" film every day of the week, then spend Sunday picking up the pieces of your ravaged life.
A flying head-butt is the best possible metaphor for the sixth installment of a franchise that was born with a little movie about street racing 12 years ago. “Fast & Furious 6” is a relentless, over-the-top action blowout that is determined to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s fast, it’s fun, and thanks to roughly 273 explosions, car chases and fight scenes, it’s pretty furious.
All your old favorites are back in action: Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster, plus relatively new addition Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Somewhere in the middle of the mayhem, someone slipped in a plot: an international bad guy named Shaw (Luke Evans) is trying to obtain a doomsday device that will kill millions of people or something. It’s called Nightshade. I know because I wrote it down in my notebook. It was probably the least relevant piece of information in the film.
In order to track down Shaw — who operates with a crew of modified cars — FBI agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) must turn to that other motley crew of criminals who used to operate with modified cars, now spread around the world hiding from justice.
Luckily, for a group of wanted fugitives, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his crew only require a 45-second montage to locate. Their motivation to enlist? Toretto’s longtime girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the one who died in “Fast & Furious 4,” is still alive and connected to Shaw. This is great news for Toretto, but bad news for his girlfriend from “Fast & Furious 5,” who is still in his bed when Toretto gets the news, and tossed aside like a pair of attractive socks.
“Fast & Furious 6” treats reality with about as much concern. There’s a thin line between an amazing stunt that takes your breath away and a ridiculous stunt that makes you laugh out loud. You can have a lot of fun with the second category, but it undercuts a film’s credibility. Harrison Ford climbing under a speeding truck in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was ludicrous but believable; Harrison Ford jumping out of an airplane in an inflatable raft in “Temple of Doom” was just plain ludicrous. “Fast & Furious 6” pretty much lives in that second category, and “Man of Steel” isn’t going to be this summer’s only film about a man who can fly.
To be fair, one of the film’s accomplishments is its ability to take a movie that is supposedly about an international super-criminal and boil its action down to a series of glorified street races, albeit street races that now involve tanks. Sadly, one of the film’s failures is its attempt to weave together the narratives of a truckload of supporting characters, which blur into such a mess of chaos by the film’s climax that you can’t keep track of who is fighting who.
None of this is to say that fans won’t enjoy this movie. Even non-fans will get a thrill or two, followed by a quick laugh and a feeling like someone is trying to insult their intelligence. “Fast & Furious 6” is a classic example of a movie that is all style with little substance, a film that exists as a justification for car chases, explosions and gunfire. And if that’s all you’re looking for, congrats. You can leave the sci-fi and comic book movies for the geeks.
“Fast & Furious 6” is a textbook PG-13 film: they use the F-word once, they show just enough female skin to not get flagged for nudity, and they fill the rest of the time with the kind of pervasive fisticuffs and bloodless action violence that wipes out the bad guys while leaving the good guys with a few scrapes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the "KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.