“Fast & Furious 6” Nearly Overheats

Fast & Furious 6
“The Fast and the Furious” franchise began as an homage to B-movies of old that centered around street racing and hot rods, becoming a sleeper hit for Universal. That was back in 2001. Twelve years and five sequels later, the “Fast” franchise is still humming along, with “Fast 5” being the best in the series since the original. The gang is all back for what the credits call “Furious 6,” but how does it stack up to the mayhem and fun of its predecessor?

At the end of “Fast 5,” the characters had pulled off the heist of a lifetime in Rio, each of them driving off into the sunset with ten million dollars. Now, things are personal, as Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the FBI agent formerly on their trail, needs their help to take down an international thief whose accomplice is none other than Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the former flame of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). She supposedly died in the fourth film, “Fast & Furious,” but much like soap operas, death can’t stop a character from living. In exchange for full pardons, Dom, Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of the crew from the other “Fast” films convene in London to take down this criminal mastermind, played by Luke Evans.

After some hiccups along the way, the “Fast” franchise has molded itself into a finely tuned machine, focusing on what the audiences want most: vehicular warfare. “Fast 5” worked so well because the formula was tweaked into a heist film, making it a fun, low rent version of “Ocean’s Eleven” with cars. “Furious 6” returns to the kind of film the others were, capping off a sort of trilogy that began with “Fast 4.” Making things business as usual leaves the story somewhat lacking, with scenes that tread water, especially at the beginning. To compensate, “Furious 6” features some of the biggest action to date in the series, with cars designed to make other cars fly through the air, people jumping across bridges from car to car and, not to be outdone, also from a moving cargo jet to a moving car. The whole thing is just a little too over the top, especially for a purist like me who longs for the non-CGI car chases of old featured in “The French Connection” and “The Road Warrior.” Few things are as viscerally exciting as a car chase, with one wrong turn resulting in chaos, but something about CGI car chases kill that sense of danger.

The huge action setpieces are entertaining, but the “Fast” series has veered directly into cartoon land. Everyone is more super human than human, especially Hobbs, who can throw people his own size up into the ceiling like they were stuffed dolls. Even funnier, Hobbs and Dom seem to be competing in a man-off in the scenes they share, with Johnson holding his arms out like they’re so big he can’t keep them by his side. That’s on top of the oil that makes his muscles nice and shiny. Dom, despite being a millionaire now, still traipses around in wife beaters, presumably so he can also show off his massive arms and teach Johnson that he isn’t the only one in the movie who knows how to lift a weight or two.

All of the over-the-top shenanigans aside, “Furious 6” is a fun summer blockbuster, featuring everything one could hope for in not only an action movie, but a “Fast” movie. Sure, it doesn’t compare to some of the better entries in the series, but the film is miles better than the worst movies in the series, like “Tokyo Drift.” Even better is the post-credits sequence, which makes the promise of “Fast 7” more exciting than anything in “Furious 6.”