If there is a car heaven, just think of its features: gas tanks are always full, traffic is staggered into conveniently slalom-ready patterns, traffic lights are eternally green and an extra boost of speed can be found by upshifting into imaginary gears. St. Peter is there and his hands are greasy and a socket wrench hangs out his robes.
This place, this land of vehicular fantasy and whimsy — as magical as Oz and Narnia but with more burnt rubber, flag droppers in booty shorts and the shortest DMV lines ever — is not make believe; it is the world of the Fast and Furious franchise, now in its sixth iteration with Fast and Furious 6, a mindless exercise in automobile stupidity.
Oh yes, this is dumb. But don’t act so surprised. Even if you like the series, you have to recognize how dopey these movies are. I mean, come on, in the last one, they drove Scrooge McDuck’s money vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, violating Isaac Newton’s entire body of work in a five-minute road rash of car crashes and crunches. So calling it stupid isn’t really worth debating. The debatable part is this: do you like stupid movies, or do you steer clear. (My only car pun, I promise.)
I must admit, I love corny-bad movies, movies that flaunt the laws of physics, movies that accentuate their weaknesses with even more weaknesses, movies that have a wacky spirit of comic invention. Mostly, though, I like movies that aren’t afraid to be mindless and stupid on their own terms. Russ Meyer knew he wasn’t making the next Citizen Kane when he made Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, but he didn’t care. He just threw his heart and soul into that zany movie, and he savored its campy, beautiful awfulness. That’s the way I’ve felt about past Fast and Furious films, including the last two, Fast & Furious and Fast Five. They simply stopped trying to be cool and hip, and they just started being ridiculous in a perfectly delightful tongue-in-cheek crash-o-rama. The clownish spirit we basked in with those movies is mostly gone here in Fast and Furious 6, an uneven and mostly dull action movie about whatever it’s about … something about a microchip, I think. I was saddened to see many of the signature car chases replaced with bland kung-fu, MMA-style fistfights, gunfights and parkour. The cars are almost afterthoughts.
Back are gearheads Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) and even supercop
(Dwayne Johnson) as they wheel around the globe whipping out steering-wheel
thrills at questionable speeds. Much of the movie is a close-up of drivers’ feet
as the camera makes a visual dissertation on the art of automobile clutching.
Other shots included feet on gas pedals, hands on steering wheels and extreme
close-up shots of gear shifters. The movie did that funny thing where a driver
could get more speed by shifting up again and again. Losing a race? Try 17th
gear. Transmission work on these cars must be a headache.
Dom and Brian are told by
forever in muscle mode, if they can catch a notorious racecar bandit that
they’ll be given immunity for past crimes, grand theft auto and the like. They
balk at the pitch because, after all, they’re living in extradition-free
countries on Scrooge McDuck’s vault money. But then Hobbs throws in a catch: Dom’s deceased
girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), may still be alive and working in the
bandit’s crew. Suddenly Dom and Brian, ever fascinated by the concept of
“family,” are off and running on Hobbs’
criminal investigation. The plot is fairly straightforward, though it all seems
a little murky. Like, for instance, why does a military base transfer the
sacred microchip out of the base? You’d think the safest place anything would
be is smack dab in the middle of a military fort. And then why does the
military send two puny little cars to guard the ever-priceless microchip?
Again, you’ll either love this stupidity or hate it.
Also, why are there vending machines inside the secret-agent super-lair? Was it impractical to just put in a refrigerator and a cupboard stocked with snacks? Certainly, if they have money for state-of-the-art hacking and tracking eqpuipment, not to mention one-of-a-kind cars, they could afford some chips and sodas. Apparently even people who drive European supercars and pimped-out ’Murican muscle wagons crave Skittles and an
Arizona iced tea every now and again. What’s
crazy is that when Tyrese Gibson’s character doesn’t have change for his oncoming
munchie attack, The Rock shoots the machine’s glass front panel with a bullet
that could leave a crater on the moon. In the real world, police have to file
paperwork after they discharge their weapon. I realize now I’ve described the
scene in full, and my only explanation to that is this: that scene is bonkers.
The car chases are adorably preposterous, but that’s their charm. An early one involves beefed-up go-karts with reinforced ramps on the front — think Mad Max at a Formula 1 race — that send cop cars tumbling over them. A race in
London with Dom and Letty is a little too
long, but it’s packed with Easter eggs, including its finish line and pit area
(the factory on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals).
Later in the movie a tank shows up to cause all kinds of trouble. That scene
ends with a stunt that’s so impossibly foolish that the audience I was with
cheered at the downright audacity of its existence. It really must be seen to
The final sequence involves a cargo airplane and goes on much too long. The scene does tap into that zany Fast & Furious spirit, though. For instance, how long is that runway? If we use math (let’s say 120 mph for 20 minutes) the runway is something like 39 miles too long. And the whole time, cars are dangling from titanium grappling hook wire, fistfights in the cargo hold, shootouts in the fuselage, and the Spruce Goose-sized airplane is in a perpetual state of mid-takeoff. It’s those scenes that prove how much fun the Furious franchise can be.
The cast certainly helps as well. Diesel, whose voice rumbles like a Harley Davidson with a slower-than-usual idle, is an enjoyable actor to watch work, even if it’s just to spout macho-man lines such as, “I got this one,” or “No one messes with my family.” He and Rodriguez share a scene that’s quite good: she has amnesia so he tells her how she got all her scars. “You got this one when some show-off kid nearly killed you with his car.” “Where were you?” she asks. “I was the show-off kid.”
I enjoyed parts of this movie a lot. The chase scenes. The unbelievably bad stunts. The way the film seemed to flash back and flash forward to other events in the Furious canon. I didn’t like all the gunplay and fistfights; they seemed to drag on for far too long. They also took the film out of its element, which is fast cars doing stupid stuff.
There’s no shame in that formula, so why hide it in a dumber movie?