[img]http://blockbusterbuzz.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/fast-and-furious-6-movie.jpg[/img]WARNING: DETAILED PLOT SPOILERS ABOUT THIS FILM – WHICH OPENED OFFICIALLY IN U.S. THEATERS TODAY ON FRIDAY, MAY 24 – DISCUSSED BELOW. PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THIS.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO THIS
This was, I am excited to announce, easily the best action flick of the summer thus far – and it far outdid pure duds like Iron Man 3 and A Good Day to Die Hard; in retrospect, I thought this franchise was getting a bit long in the tooth and way out of hand already as a fan of the original Rob Cohen customized car/hot girls/cheesy action and dialogue hybrid that came out in ’01, but this latest one surprised and entertained both me and my wife as we saw it as an early screening last night (the film officially opens in U.S. theaters today, Friday, the 24th). It contained a solid, rather frightening adversary/villain, incredibly orchestrated and choreographed hand to hand fight sequences and great humor from a lot of the cast, notably Tyrese Gibson’s “Roman Pearce” character. Before I delve into this sixth – and not last (you have to stay around until after a good deal of the end credits roll) – entry into this cash cow of a franchise for Universal, let me talk about some backstory and how all roads led to this, as the marketing materials suggest…
Rob Cohen’s 2001 The Fast and the Furious came as a result of the raging “import car tuning” scene that was sweeping not only America but the world at that time, based on a newspaper article Cohen read about this phenomenon spreading like wildfire; kids with tons of disposable cash wouldn’t buy Benzes or Beemers but rather take their $14,000 base Honda Civics and soup them up to the point they would be carrying hundreds of extra horsepower via modifications like NOS (nitrous oxide) systems and engine/drivetrain overhauls – these cars could outrace Porsches and Corvettes, and the street racing scene was never the same. Cohen’s film opened the public’s eyes to the phenomenon, much to the delight of the youth-oriented public involved in these mostly illegal car races, and mixed in a rather cheesy plot dealing with an undercover cop (Paul Walker) in L.A. who attempts to infiltrate one of these “race crews” whom the FBI and police believe are hijacking trucks loaded with electronics like DVD players and VCRs (presumably to sell them on the black market). While on the surface, this sounded like a ridiculous antic and something nowhere worthy of a motion picture plot, the film just worked – Vin Diesel as “Dominic Toretto” tore up the screen and became a household action figure name from that point on (though many people don’t realize he had many other solid performances aside from Fast and the Furious including Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan and Knockaround Guys) as the leader of this truck-robbing crew who race their ridiculously souped-up cars at night and hijack the electronics on their time off. The first film was uber-cheesy, riddled with horrific, laughable dialogue and every cliché in the book – but it worked. It still stays in my heart as the only film in this franchise that kind of stands on its own if not for the hot women in scantily-clad form cheering on their boyfriends and lovers in the car races, then for the cars themselves.
Enter the sequel that followed, John Singleton’s 2Fast2Furious. This film was from what I like to call the “school of Exorcist II” – what do I mean by that? Well, besides being one of the most awful films ever put to celluloid, this was a matter of the first film being so successful, the studio (in this case Universal; in the case of The Exorcist it was Warner Brothers) figured the public would accept ANYTHING as a sequel. Singleton, who had directed awesome, moving inner-city youth films like Boyz N The Hood and Poetic Justice, just didn’t have a grip on this material as Cohen had, and the film bombed because of it; the plot finds Paul Walker reprising the role of cop Brian O’Connor again, but because he let a known fugitive go free at the end of the first film (Diesel’s character), his badge has been suspended and his dream of getting into the FBI has been thwarted. A situation develops in which the FBI needs to bust a high-ranking drug kingpin in Miami (the most clichéd plot ever created) and while they have a gorgeous, sultry undercover agent already in place posing as the drug dealer’s jaw-dropping girlfriend (the luscious Eva Mendes), they need O’Connor and his buddy Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) to go undercover as expert racers to bust this guy (Cole Hauser). The film was laughable and ridiculous, with horrific acting and action sequences that were better suited for a Lego commercial set; even worse, Gibson’s comedy and repoire with Walker’s character, as evolutionary as it had become up to the point of this latest film, was embarrassing and offputting with no heart behind it (the moment Gibson says to one of the rival drug dealer drivers ”Nice car, Fonzie!” when the two are exchanging insults about import and muscle cars, I knew this film was finished). However, the film did introduce two characters that remained for the rest of the series: Gibson’s “Pearce” and the role that rapper "Ludacris" plays. Who was missing from this magical equation? Yup, Vin Diesel. The biggest problem was that this just didn’t feel like a Fast and the Furious film without him.
An attempt at yet another film in the series came when director Justin Lin was tapped by Universal to change the aspect of the plots and bring the action to the Orient where street racing had a totally new element – what was known as “drifting.” Lin released Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift with a totally new cast, plot line and feel – but the attempt was utterly unsuccessful, as Universal quickly found out that without Diesel and at least Walker, these films had no legs to stand on. Much like the Halloween debacle in which after the franchise changed themes with Halloween III: Season of the Witch and fans realized they wanted Michael Myers back in these, the Fast and the Furious franchise was either going to stop, or a drastic change had to be made. In a decision backed by co-producing studio “Original Film,” Universal decided to take one last chance and let Lin resurrect the feel, characters and pacing of Cohen’s 2001 original and so the oddly-named Fast and Furious was released. Walker was reunited with Diesel and though the plot was goofy, the chemistry between the characters was somewhat back and on the right course – Walker’s O’Connor character is now officially working for the FBI, while Diesel’s Toretto is back doing what he does best…well, almost…in that he, girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and a couple of new recruits for a new “team” are now heisting gasoline in the Dominican Republic. This was far-fetched and stupid, especially when almost-naked but stunningly gorgeous girls are dancing with drinks atop gas tankers while their idiot racer boyfriends are pumping the gas into their cars; be that as it may, the overall feel of the first film was back, and eventually O’Connor teams up with Toretto once more to try and bust – yet again – a crime lord from Mexico who moves his drugs and money through street racing types. In an interesting twist, Dominic (Diesel) gets word from his gorgeous sister and girlfriend of O’Connor’s, Mia (the lovely Jordana Brewster) that Letty, Dom’s girlfriend, has been murdered while he’s hiding out in Panama. However, everything is not what it seems and Letty’s involvement in this drug cartel and her supposed murder are exposed and explored in Fast and the Furious 6.
In believing they had a cash cow on their hands with this reinvented franchise – which they did – Universal gambled again on Justin Lin to do a fifth entry into the series, the rather quickly-released and titled Fast Five; in this one, O’Connor has gone renegade cop, turning his back on the force and becoming an outlaw with the rest of Dom’s crew for the love of Mia and his friendship with Dom. I always thought this was a bit ridiculous and offputting; this element of Walker’s O’Connor so willing to become a renegade cop who has turned his back on the police force and the FBI…but it gets even wilder when he’s involved in the very beginning of Fast Five in “breaking” Dom out of the prison bus he’s on being transported to a California maximum security penitentiary. With all of them now on the run, O’Connor and Mia find refuge in Brazil, where another character from the first film (Matt Schulze) takes them in and gets them again involved in a scheme to steal cars off a train. Dom eventually joins them in the scheme, meeting up with them at the train, but O’Connor discovers the cars they’re stealing have been seized by the DEA and actually belong to some cutthroat murderous thug in South America. Lin and his team turn up the action quota to 11 on this one, with O’Connor getting a team together that consists of much of the cast from the last three films, even Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, to pull off a heist that will rob their adversary of all his millions of dollars, allowing all of them to escape to safe retreats and finally disappear. However, things get complicated when Mia announces to Dom and Brian that she’s pregnant with Brian’s baby and at the very end learn that Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez) is not really dead. Also of note is that Fast Five announced the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the cast, an exciting WWF/WWE wrestling star with a stature that packs more muscle than Diesel’s Toretto character ever could; with Johnson playing the special forces agent searching for Toretto’s crew as well as the renegade O’Connor now, the action setpieces got livelier and even more violent, setting up the inevitable hand to hand fight sequence between Diesel and him about halfway through the film. While exciting and taut, this scene was a bit disappointing in that Johnson’s character is just so massive in physical appearance and strength – as his real-life appearance really IS – it didn’t make sense he was so manhandled by Diesel’s Dom through most of the fight; this really bothered me. While at the end, each of them takes a tail whippin’ from the other, the scene sets up even more exciting fight sequences in this new film. At the conclusion of Fast Five, we learn from the delicious Eva Mendes – who reprises her role as the undercover agent just for this after-credits clip in which she hops herself up on Johnson’s character’s desk, crosses her legs in her ridiculously tight, short skirt and leans suggestively over to the brooding wrestling star – that Letty, who was also part of Dom’s crew and his girlfriend, is not actually dead based on spy photos she shows him.
Thus, let us enter with Fast and the Furious 6 – while I don’t care for this title and think the films have been given goofy names ever since 2Fast2Furious, I didn’t actually think this franchise had any life left in it…I mean, how many times can you keep going with this plot? Brian and Mia have a baby…Dom is still on the run and STILL wearing white wife-beaters and the silver crucifix…yadda yadda yadda…still, coming out of the theater last night, my wife and I were completely surprised and utterly satisfied by this high-octane action film which could have easily stood on its own without the franchise name. Lin turns up the action heat here tenfold compared to his previous films, giving us an awesomely frightening and dangerous villain (mysteriously named “Shaw”), great comedic glue between the cast and fight sequences that rival Dark Knight Rises. Okay, so Brian O’Connor (Walker) learns that girlfriend Mia (Brewster) is pregnant in the last film, and the picture ends with him and Dom (Diesel) once again challenging each other to a race to prove who is the better driver. This new film picks right up where that one left off (an effective technique in my opinion) and opens with Dom and Brian racing each other through the canyons and one-lane ocean-hugging cliffs of Spain; of course, Brian is behind the wheel of an awesome Nissan Skyline while Toretto has his hands on the wheel of some Detroit muscle in the form of a Dodge Challenger (souped up with NOS bottles and the like, of course). This introduced yet another issue I had with this franchise: In the first film, Diesel’s character is smitten with the “import tuner” scene, driving a ridiculously modified and fast Mazda sports car. Suddenly, he’s a muscle car enthusiast in the remainder of the franchise entries, driving customized Chevys with SS badges attached to them, wanting nothing to do with import “ricers” as they’re known. Likewise, I just will never understand the utter evolution of this series – in Rob Cohen’s first film, it was all about the candy-colored paint jobs on body-kitted Hondas and Nissans; as the films progressed, the notion of the “import tuners” kind of took a back seat and the cars looked more and more ridiculous to the point that in the fourth film, Fast and Furious, we see souped-up desert buggies with NOS bottles and all sorts of stupid-looking old beaters with special modifications in them…what? Where was the seriousness of the cars in the first film? Sure, the women kissing other women in micro miniskirts were all over the rest of the films (supposedly, the custom car circuit attracts adult film star-looking chicks who make out with each other while guys are revving their engines beside them, but I will NEVER understand the connection here) but where was the focus on what made Cohen’s film so engaging…the CARS? It has been argued that the “import tuner” scene has kind of died since 2001’s Fast and the Furious, but what has the franchise become in its wake?
At any rate, a rather long-winded plot develops in Fast and the Furious 6 in which Agent Hobbs (Johnson) learns of a dangerous rogue missionary named “Shaw” who took out a bunch of government goons in Moscow and who plans to put into play some kind of weapon that would disable law enforcement agencies from tracking him for good (or some such variant of this; the plot is a bit hazy and didn’t make much sense to me). He decides his only answer to catch this guy is to turn to Toretto and his crew – this brings into play another “con” about this film in that why would a top-ranking agent like Hobbs need to bring in a bunch of ex-criminals now on the run in another country to stop this terrorist? If you just go with it, Hobbs shows up on the doorstep of Toretto’s hideout to make him an offer: Assemble his team of ghetto techies (rapper Ludacris once again), master smooth talkers (Tyrese Gibson), ace counter-surveillance experts and technical drivers (Toretto and O’Connor) to help him bring down Shaw, or he won’t let them live as fugitives any longer. What gets Dom is when Hobbs shows him pictures of Letty presumably still alive and now working for this Shaw. Going to O’Connor and Mia, who are spending time with their new baby named “Jack,” Dom informs Brian of the offer Hobbs made to him. The team, of course, is assembled and the group finds itself this time up against not Columbian drug lords or some car-robbing clique but a dangerous master assassin and terrorist, hell-bent on staying out of Hobbs’ clutches forever and accomplishing his mission. Furthermore, O'Connor makes Hobbs a counter-offer: If they help him bring down Shaw, they all get full pardons for their crimes. Hesitant at first and claiming he has no such power to grant this, Hobbs' lie is quickly foiled and exposed by O'Connor who knows the rules of the cops...because he was one. It appears Hobbs has his manhood between a rock and a hard place.
Toretto and crew find the job not to be so easy, as Shaw and his team have the latest in the line of technical gadgets, rendering the souped-up BMWs Toretto, O’Connor and the team drive to chase Shaw in their first encounter useless, making the cars crash with small devices launched onto them from Shaw’s brigade. The confrontations between Toretto, Brian and the rest of the team and Shaw’s men have them splintering into different fights and encounters all over London at one point, with even Shaw and Toretto meeting face to face in what seems like is going to be a sick fight scene. In between, Toretto runs into Letty, who is indeed alive and is now working with Shaw’s crew; it seems she has suffered some kind of amnesia by which she has no idea who Dom is or what kind of life she had with him previously. Also, mysteriously, she has developed butt-kicking martial arts skills, showcased in a hand to hand fight sequence between her and the female special agent put into place by Hobbs (but who exposes a wild plot twist with regard to her character). Suddenly, the events of Fast and Furious start to tie in here, as we learn the crime lord Arturo Braga (played by the same actor here) originally had Letty working for him but who was undercover by way of O’Connor who was trying to infiltrate his organization; apparently, the “Phoenix” character didn’t kill Letty as we’re lead to believe but rather blew her car up during one of the runs in that flashback sequence, sending her flying down a mountain and left with a severe head trauma, thus why she doesn’t know who Dominic is. In comes this Shaw, who finds her at the hospital some time later and “recruits” her for his organization, and while a bit hokey and hard to believe essentially, it does explain how Letty could have had a funeral in Fast and Furious yet was still alive…and why Brian looked like he knew it.
It is also revealed that Braga was in business with this Shaw, and so O’Connor decides to go undercover back to the L.A. jail system to pose as a reclaimed rogue cop prisoner to get to Braga and find out what Shaw is up to. Indeed, Brian meets Braga yet again face to face from within his jail cell, and ends up taking out all of Braga’s bodyguards before beating Braga himself nearly to death, demanding information on Shaw. In the final sequence of the film, the action really heats up as Hobbs, O’Connor, Toretto and the rest of the team attempt to stop Shaw from taking off in a massive plane loaded with weapons and all sorts of plans for destruction; once Toretto, Hobbs and O’Connor get aboard the plane, all hell breaks loose with wild, expertly-choreographed fight sequences pitting first O’Connor against Shaw and then one of Shaw’s massive, muscle-bound henchmen against both Diesel and Hobbs. This was probably one of the most exciting parts of the whole film, in which we watch this muscle-bound grotesque – who could have easily given Bane from Dark Knight Rises a run for his money – manhandle Diesel like he’s a rag doll (something we’ve never seen before in one of these) and even beats up on Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs character like no one else ever has. Though, in a really awesome part that’s hinted at in the film’s trailers, one of the two pumped-up musclemen get Shaw’s henchman into a position where the other one comes flying from on top and simply breaks his neck – utterly cool. We also, during this final action setpiece, witness Toretto trading punches with the highly skilled Shaw, eventually getting to the point everyone in the film is just a bloody mess. Meanwhile, outside, some of Turetto’s crew – now including Mia who had been kidnapped by Shaw’s men but now freed by the boys – are struggling to stay inside cars that are attached by cables to Shaw’s plane before it can take off while fist-fighting with more of Shaw’s henchmen; this is a good half-hour of non-stop mayhem, edge-of-your-seat excitement and great action setpieces rivaling anything that has come out this year save for perhaps Olympus Has Fallen. Of additional note is that with the group finally free from being fugitives after, of course, saving the day and taking Shaw down, they return to their old house in L.A. where Dom and his original crew hung out, now being overrun with weeds and out-of-control foliage...a fitting end comes when everyone is sitting around in the backyard for a barbecue -- just like they did in Cohen's The Fast and the Furious. I thought it was a clever idea by Lin to bring the series full circle by returning to L.A. and the original house it all started in. Curiously, the whole "Letty" amnesia thing is never explained, as she just seems to "feel at home" at the L.A. hangout, just "going" with the notion that she was once Dom's girlfriend -- in my opinion, it would have been more effective for Lin to have had her hit her head in one of the fight scenes she's in and "come out" of the amnesia, finally remembering Dom and everyone else.
There’s a (rather disappointing) development involving one of Dominic’s crew at the end of this film, which I won’t explore any further, as well as a very interesting hint at what is coming next in this franchise after some of the end credits roll – all I will say is DON’T leave the theater when the initial credits come on screen and be prepared to be wowed by the introduction of a cool action star that has headlined in many films before but never really got the credit he deserved. Hopefully, with the seventh Fast and the Furious, he may actually have some good material to work with and finally be able to show off his unique fighting skills – something that will not be a good thing for Vin Diesel’s “Toretto” character whom he threatens in this post-credits sequence. You know, at this point, this franchise is beginning to feel like a comic book adaptation, what with honest-to-goodness villains and adversaries going after Turetto and his crew, making it feel like a hero vs. villain setup…and, I must say, while I didn’t care for the “expansion” of this franchise beyond the first film initially, I kind of like the way this is all heading. And while the opening credits sequence of F&F 6 depicts shots from all the films to come before it, suggesting this one was going to wrap up the series and finally end it, it was kind of surprising to see a hint at yet another one. We’ll have to see where Justin Lin – or perhaps another daring director – takes this.
As I stated, this was easily the best action film to be released in theaters for the summer of 2013 thus far, but we do have a good few solid months left to go…after all, we’re gonna have Man of Steel and World War Z next month, but definitely go see this if you liked even one or two of the other ones in the series. If you have seen it, please discuss here and tell me what you thought!