Monday, May 27, 2013

The Cinema File #186: "Fast & Furious 6" Review

First off, I should point out that pretty much everything I have to say about this movie should be read with the understanding that this franchise and the specific vehicular action sub-genre to which it belongs are simply not my cup of tea. I understand the appeal, and I'm not saying that these movies are necessarily bad or even poorly made, just that I don't personally have much interest in them. I can't really relate to the die hard Fast & Furious fan, and I can only assume based on the caricature I have in my head that the endless tire screeching and explosions in this sixth installment are more than enough to satisfy them.

Fast & Furious 6, or possibly just Fast 6, or Faster and Furiouser, is the story of an elite team of professional car thieves who for some reason that I gather was explained in a previous film are keen to team up with the government agent who once hunted them in order to track down an even more ruthless group of criminals in exchange for full pardons. As you might have guessed by now, I have not seen any of the previous movies in this series past the first one, which as I've mentioned, didn't really do anything for me. I'd say its a credit to the writing that someone like me with so little experience can have no problem understanding the character dynamics in a film with five previous chapters, but then I'm forced to acknowledge that the shallowness of said characters has as much to do with that as anything actually clever going on in the screenplay.

As if that matters. At the risk of sounding condescending or elitist, which I genuinely do not intend to be, I highly doubt that anyone comes to this movies at this point for the character development or the drama. This series is and from what I can see always has been about the action set pieces centered around high-testosterone fueled vehicular mayhem. Apparently it is a stable of this franchise that a majority of the stunt work is done via practical effects, and I have to say that this element, the thing we all came to see anyway, is well done overall. While they all looked good and are pulled off with style and precision, I found the action scenes to go on way too long, but I imagine that's sort of the point, and this wouldn't be a problem to someone who is ready to slog through it.

Where the film falters is exactly where you would expect it to, namely the nearly absent plot. It seems almost pedantic to criticize the plot in a Fast & Furious movie, but here you go. The main thrust of the story finds the group trying to save an old comrade who was apparently thought to have died in a previous movie, but in fact woke up with amnesia and has since been recruited into the bad guy's group. The set up of this might just take the Stupid Henchman Award away from Parker, but its a flimsy subtext to add some “this time its personal” resolve for the main characters, and in a movie where the real stars are the cars anyway, you just have to forgive stuff like this. This is the kind of movie where whole characters exist purely so that they can be cut to for a comic relief one liner, and while I wasn't laughing, everyone else in my theater was, so what do I know?

I might have actually seen the last film in this series, except that at the time, I was not quite as religious in my commitment to seeing every movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While not as phenomenal as his role in Pain And Gain, he is easily the best part of the movie, and he isn't in it nearly enough. Every time the focus shifts to the comparatively uncharismatic Vin Diesel, Ludacris, or...the other people whose names escape me, I find myself wanting the entire movie to be The Rock kicking ass on top of a car. The villains are particularly boring, so much so that I didn't even catch what the main bad guy's plan was (apparently something about a microchip, maybe) until well into the third act, and just assumed he was some sort of anarchist.

Again, all of these downsides are immaterial to the heart of the film, which is the chain of car chases that connect each incidental and pointless bit of exposition leading to the next car chase. I certainly want more in a movie, but if you like this sort of thing, the escalating intensity of stuff banging into each other, people banging into each other, and various things blowing up whether or not they would actually be that explosive should meet the standard you're shooting for. The climax is fairly epic, taking place on the longest airplane runway in the world, the kind you only see in old school video games that only end conveniently right after you've beaten the boss, and with the exception of one minor character's death that will no doubt be resolved with an amnesiac resurrection twist later on in the series, everything wraps up nicely for everyone we're supposed to like.

In short, Fast & Furious 6 is exactly what you want it to be, if you want it at all, which I don't. Apparently they will be spinning off The Rock's character into his own movie series going forward, which I will almost definitely be seeing, if only because losing the baggage of these other characters I don't care about and just kicking ass with very little need for a complicated back story is exactly what I want to see in a movie starring The Rock. I may or may not come back for Fast 7: Faster Then The Furiousest, depending on whether or not he's involved, but as a non-fan, I can easily say that this film was visually engaging enough that even given my lack of interest, I don't find the prospect of doing so entirely dreadful. Then again, I've got another Madea movie coming up later this year, so maybe I'm just saving up all of my dread for that. 

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