That Fast & Furious 6 is everything we’ve come to associate with the term “summer popcorn flick” — heavy on car chases, fight scenes, and explosions, light on plot and sense — shouldn’t surprise you. What might surprise you, though, is the sentimental streak that drives the whole thing. Beyond all the testosterone, adrenaline, and American muscle featured so prominently in the film, this is a movie that wants to be about family. Who’d have thunk it?
Fast & Furious 6 picks up on the tease dropped in the post-credits scene of the last film, 2011’s Fast Five, with stalwart DSS Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) bringing a file on a robbery of a military convoy to the doorstep of recently-retired international criminal Dominic “Dom” Toretta (Vin Diesel). Dom and his crew have been content to enjoy their split of the $100 million they heisted in the last film in exile, but Hobbs needs them to track down the crew that hit the convoy, and he has the perfect incentive to bring them all back: a photo of Dom’s supposedly-dead lady love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), alive, well, and taking part in the robbery.
“I’m offering you a chance to make your family whole again,” Hobbs says once the team — Dom, Brian (Paul Walker), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Han (Sung Kang), and Gisele (Gal Godot) — has been reassembled, and of course they say “yes”, once they get Hobbs to also agree to full pardons all around for everyone, that is. Wouldn’t be much of a movie if they turned him down and went back to enjoying their millions, right? Right.
So Hobbs, his new sidekick agent, Riley (Gina Carano), Dom, and the crew go after Letty, and that trail leads them to the coolly efficient and ruthless Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a former British SAS agent who along with Letty and his own crew of highly skilled mercenaries is intent on stealing components to build some crazy powerful device that can knock out power to an entire region, blah, blah, blah. Dom and company really don’t care and neither will you. They just want Letty back, and they want to be able to go home. But does Letty even want to go back?
Director Justin Lin, who has helmed these films since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, keeps the film moving at a pace befitting the title of the film and fills it with all the exotic cars, beautiful women, and insane stunt work that have become the calling cards of the series. But he also allows time in between all the set pieces for scenes that remind fans of the series over and over again that these characters consider themselves a family and how important the very idea of family is to all of them in different ways. It’s certainly not a new or novel idea, and it’s not approached in any sort of groundbreaking way, but just the effort that Lin and Fast & Furious veteran screenwriter Chris Morgan undertake to establish that emotional through-line in the film separates what goes on here from other summer cinematic junk food you’re likely to guiltily consume over the next few months. Do they beat you over the head with the theme? Absolutely. But at least it gives the proceedings some sort of beating heart.
What also adds to the fun of the film is the comfort level the cast seems to have with one another and the characters they’re inhabiting. Tyrese Gibson, in particular, looks like he’s having a ball, but that might just be because he’s allowed to have a sense of humor in these films, as opposed to his appearances in the Transformers film franchise. He and Ludacris provide much-needed levity and charm in all their scenes, leaving the rest of the crew to handle the heavy drama. Dwayne Johnson’s performance also is worth mentioning; of all the films he’s appeared in this year thus far, he’s at his most “action-figure-esque” here. There’s not a single scene where the veins in his gigantic arms aren’t bulging or his chin isn’t slightly elevated so that he’s looking down and sideways at everyone. It’s truly remarkable that he didn’t sprain something just with his posture throughout the filming.
All in all, you could do far worse with your Memorial Day movie dollars this weekend than spend it with Hobbs, Dom, and the crew as they bust up bad guys and try to figure out how and why Letty’s back. Be sure and stay for the mid-credits teaser scene, too, just for the cameo appearance. You’ll be ahead of the curve for the next one … and yes, there WILL be a next one.
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Fast & Furious 6
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang, Luke Evans, Gina Carano, John Ortiz. Directed by Justin Lin
Running Time: 130 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language.