“Fast & Furious 6” is without a doubt one of the top six “Fast & Furious” movies. It’s a ripsnorting carmageddon that stylizes automotive annihilation the way John Woo used to choreograph death and destruction with guns and explosions.
It’s also an oddly split-personality movie that argues for the values of family, faith and friendship, arguing that often violence and peace are inextricably linked. Lots of bad people (and others not so deserving) are blown away, but there are few gaudy displays of blood. Tellingly, the most visible wound stains Vin Diesel’s behemoth chest like a red boutonniere when his heart is symbolically broken.
Since 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” with federal agent Paul Walker chasing illegal racer Diesel, then becoming part of his tight-knit clan, the series has held an unusual place in the ranks of mindless action movies. While its mechanized violence is near-nihilistic, it has a creed.
The multicultural “Furious” gang, who clasp hands over a family dinner, bow heads and say grace at least once per film, keep their morals always on display. Sure, they engage in delirious violence and daredevil chases, but knowing that life is short and unpredictable, they always support and act honorably toward one another. Restoration always follows destruction.
The new chapter begins with the crew scattered across the globe, enjoying the bounty of the previous film’s big Brazilian drug-money heist. For Diesel and Walker, that means modest Mediterranean domesticity with their lady loves. For incorrigible player Tyrese Gibson, it means a private jet full of giggling bimbos. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, always up for a laugh, scatters cash over the heads of delighted children like confetti. When government agent Dwayne Johnson arrives, willing to exchange full U.S. pardons for their past crimes (imagine the speeding tickets), they agree to reassemble the team and help him nail the villain who stole a Russian nuclear zzz-zzz-zzz. Sorry, there was a moment of exposition between the fireballs, and I nodded off.
The motivation for the film’s battles hardly matters. What counts is that they are extensive and bruising to flesh and sheet metal. MMA champ Gina Carano, playing Johnson’s partner, adds a novel dash of convincing female butt-kickery to several scenes. The gear-grinding, car-based mayhem ratchets up throughout the film to levels that make “Transformers” look like a Diane Keaton movie.
If you think the apex of lunacy has been achieved when the “Furious” crew engages in a highway blitzkrieg with a superfast armored tank, you underestimate the ambition of director Justin Lin. That is a mere hors d’oeuvre before the main course, a melee involving a half-dozen supercharged sports cars, harpoon launchers and a cargo plane the size of Cleveland.
A character who appeared to be killed in an earlier film reappears here in league with the story’s baddies, and that is the story’s true mainspring. Wooing that person back to the side of justice and honor is the prize that puts Diesel and his sidemen through their skull-cracking slugfests. Lurking under the brawls is a film about devotion and abandonment and chivalry, where loyalty counts more than treasure. These are rather weighty concepts for a popcorn movie full of flying head-butts and car flips. Lin gets away with it because he’s shamelessly entertaining. The “Furious” movies glorify destruction, but they celebrate their characters’ bond above all.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186★★★ out of 4 stars