I was as surprised as anyone when "Fast 5" not only revived the "Fast and Furious" franchise but also proved to be one of the best action films of the last decade.
You're excused for having missed it as it stands to reason that a fifth chapter in any series would have little new to offer. Yet, under the steady hand of director Justin Lin, the movie not only proved to be an exciting and inspired entertainment but one that set the bar for any car-based action flick that might be made in the next 20 years.
If you think I might be overstating things, rent "Fast 5" instead of seeing the latest entry in the series, the imaginatively titled "Fast & Furious 6." The movie ends up being a victim of the previous chapter's success, as desperation is the engine that drives this episode rather than innovation.
Ridiculous instead of imaginative, "Furious 6" strains to impress its audience, trying in vain to top the many stunts that have come before, resorting instead to computer-generated effects at key moments during the adventure. The result is a disappointing effort as it's obvious that Lin & Co. are simply spinning their wheels in the service of a script that offers nothing new.
Living the good life in Spain, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his partner Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) have retired, having scored big with a heist in Rio de Janeiro. However, their time in paradise is disrupted with the arrival of federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who's on the trail of a rogue international arms dealer by the name of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Seems the mercenary is gathering high-tech parts to build a device that will wipe out power and information grids for a period of 24 hours, and he's far too elusive to be caught.
Hobbs offers full pardons to Toretto and his crew if they'll come on board, but the thing that convinces Toretto to help is evidence that his long-dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is in fact alive and in league with Shaw.
Yes, this is the sort of hoary convention that was often ponied out in serials from the 1940s, and as it's paired with the equally plausible explanation that Letty has amnesia and is a bit foggy about her past, you can tell that writer Chris Morgan is grasping at flimsy narrative straws.
These become minor concerns, though, once the physical impossibilities of the film start piling up. Obviously, movies of this sort must be given a bit more rope than others as far as physics is concerned. But Lin goes far beyond any goodwill the audience might provide, as some of the action that ensues will have you saying "Gimme a break" rather than gasping in wonder.
In particular is a sequence on a bridge that has Toretto flying through the air to catch another character who's been catapulted from a car. This scene and more than a few others are insulting rather than thrilling and only end up snapping the viewer out of the moment rather than sweeping them away — a cardinal sin for an action film.
It doesn't help that the movie is edited for maximum confusion, as so many scenes are simply a blur of disconnected images rather than a coherent sequence of awe-inspiring moments. This is particularly noticeable during the climax involving speeding cars and a flying fortress on what has to be the world's longest runway. When it's not bombarding us with ridiculous sights, it's bludgeoning us with rapid, nonsensical motion.
Obviously, how much you enjoy "Furious 6" will be determined by how willing you are to embrace the ridiculous. The crowd I saw it with seemed to have no problem with the outlandish plot and gravity-defying stunts they were treated to. Universal Pictures is counting on that, as the final scene, which features the appearance of a major action star, sets up a sure-to-be-produced seventh installment.
Here's hoping a bit more logic is employed the next time around.
'Fast & Furious 6' (2 stars out of 4)
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Jordana Brewster, Gina Carano and Elsa Pataky.
Directed by Justin Lin; produced by Neil Moritz, Clayton Townsend and Diesel; screenplay by Chris Morgan.
A Universal Pictures release. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of violence, action and mayhem, some sexuality and language). At the AMC Village Mall 6, the Harvest Moon Drive-In and Savoy 16.
Also new in theaters
"Hangover III" brings the Wolf Pack home. (3 stars) As years go by and I sit through more and more insufferable, unimaginative comedies, Todd Phillips' "The Hangover" continues to stand the test of time.
It was apparent when it was released in 2009 that the director had caught lightning in a bottle, providing one surprise after another in delivering a film that defied the notion that comedies tend to run out of steam. It actually became funnier as it went along.
It became more apparent just how special this movie was when its sequel was released, a dismal retread that succeeded in making viewers wonder why they liked the original.
Thankfully the finale of the trilogy will remind audiences why they embraced "The Hangover," as "Part III" rekindles some of the inspired lunacy that made the original such a success.
That it doesn't quite meet the heights of the initial entry can be forgiven as the ship has sailed where any sense of surprise is concerned. However, what's most refreshing is that Phillips and fellow screenwriter Craig Mazin are able to integrate certain plot points from the first film and actually achieve a sense of poignancy and closure along the way.
Things get off to a promising start as we see everyone's favorite man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) cause havoc on the Los Angeles freeway. Things go horribly awry when he attempts to transport his new pet giraffe under a bridge with a low clearance level at high speeds. As the poor animal's head goes careening into the windshield of an oncoming auto, Phillips serves notice that all bets are off here as he sets out to erase the memory of the uninspired "Part II."
He comes up with a good premise to do so as the other members of the Wolf Pack — Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) — are talked into taking Alan to a rehab facility in Arizona.
It's an uneventful trip until they're run off the road and taken hostage before being delivered to Marshall (John Goodman), a crime lord who thinks they can track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who stole more than $20 million in gold bars from him years before. Seems Alan has kept in touch with the madman, so he, Phil and Stu are given three days to find him while Doug is held as collateral.
There's a sense of forward momentum here that the second part lacked as this film breezes from one insane moment to the next with the story briskly moving from Arizona to Tijuana and finally back to Las Vegas.
However, the masterstroke Phillips and Mazin employ is using Chow, a rich source of comedic possibilities as realized by Jeong. The actor's manic approach as well as the degree of comic menace he brings to the role allows him to steal the film. The screenplay gives him more than a few show-stopping moments, each of them more manic than the last.
That the three principals are essentially the straight men to Jeong's shtick is a refreshing change, and at just more than 90 minutes, Phillips wisely doesn't let this approach overstay its welcome.
Perhaps the oddest, and most welcome, twist is when Alan finds love and is allowed to settle down at the end. I'm loathe to reveal just who his mate is — but suffice it to say, the actress cast in the role is a perfect match for Galifianakis' brand of one-step-behind-everyone, lunatic behavior.
Phillips & Co. are intimating that Alan and his cohorts have earned the right to live normal lives, having burned away the last traces of their childhood via three trials by fire. They're now ready for a life of responsibility they never could have handled or appreciated before. We've shared in this lunatic journey, and that it ends on a high note is our prize for having endured it with them.