Fast & Furious 6 ends with a title card that advises viewers not to try the stunts they’ve just seen at home. This disclaimer set off giggles and guffaws at the Majestic 10, and no wonder. The street racing from long-ago series opener The Fast and the Furious (2001) might inspire copycats. But who’s going to attempt to leap from a highway bridge and catch someone else in midair, or drive a military tank down a highway, or hook a car to a taxiing plane?
As series regular Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) astutely puts it, the sixth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise is suddenly full of “Double-Oh-Seven shit.” “This is not what we do,” Roman objects, but he’s a voice crying in the wilderness. When you have a mega-budget and projected mega-grosses, using fast cars to steal stuff isn’t enough anymore. Fighting a gadget-happy mastermind (Luke Evans) plotting to steal a computer chip that could deactivate America’s military defenses is exactly what you do.
That’s right: The Fast & Furious crew, who started as a bunch of working-class outlaws (and one undercover cop), are working this movie’s job for the U.S. government. But don’t worry about potential killjoys like gritty realism: As international-intrigue films go, F&F 6 makes Skyfall look like Zero Dark Thirty. Dwayne Johnson and Gina Carano play federal agents who spend their time gleefully pummeling suspects rather than filing paperwork, and don’t hesitate to betray an entire nation to save a single hostage. They’re perfectly apt allies for Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner and their speed-loving gang, which now numbers six, plus two mostly off-screen love interests.
It makes sense for Toretto to go into Mission Impossible mode after the feds show him photos of his beloved Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was presumed dead two movies ago, hangin’ with the bad guys in the present tense. Less believable is that the Pentagon chooses to neutralize said bad guys with fast cars rather than with, oh, I don’t know, a drone strike.
But it’s Fast & Furious. Sit back, enjoy. If anything distinguishes this franchise from its blockbuster brethren, it’s that the action is relatable to real life, if you squint hard: It’s easier to imagine yourself driving fast and throwing punches than piloting a spaceship. Director Justin Lin, who helmed the previous two installments, creates coherent, exciting set pieces, including an epic subway-tunnel fistfight and a completely wacked-out pursuit on a Spanish freeway. (Just don’t pause to think about the body count.)
The sprawling, multi-ethnic ensemble is fun to hang out with, too. If Diesel’s soulful moping and Walker’s wooden good looks get on your nerves, you need only turn to the wise-cracking, one-upping duo of Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges; or to sly Sung Kang and Gal Gadot as his ass-kicking girlfriend, for solid entertainment. Their banter sets the flick’s dominating, irreverent tone, reminding us it’s still a B-movie on an A budget, though with the earnest melodrama of the earlier films pushed to the background.
That melodrama does return in the form of Rodriguez, whose amnesiac character scowls a lot as she tries to decide how she feels about Toretto. We’re asked to be moved by the dude’s efforts to reassemble his racing “family,” but if Fast & Furious is going to go all James Bond, the script should perhaps at least have paid lip service to the notion that millions of other lives could be at stake.
Ah, well. Whether civilization stands or falls, these guys and their fans are guaranteed a sweet ride.