The “Fast & Furious” franchise has received a fair amount of coverage in recent years for its semi-accidental emergence as a standard for unaffected movie multiculturalism. For their own part, Vin Diesel and the “F&F” handlers seem eager to assert how they’ve molded a series of installments into, yep, a saga, complete with expansive, twisty continuity. None of which is really the reason that we’re turning out for “Fast & Furious 6,” of course. Matter-of-fact progressiveness and Michelle Rodriguez’s screen resurrection are swell, but how’s the stunt driving?
Director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan, back for their fourth outing, certainly do show enthusiasm for mining “the story so far.” (All that’s missing is a “Star Wars”-y opening crawl.) So we’ll be courteous and pass along the setup: After their big Rio heist in “Fast Five,” Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and cop-in-another-lifetime Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) have retired to the Canary Islands. Brian’s honey and Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), is a new mom. Clearly, as Dom says, “our old life is done.” (Sure.)
Cut to their “Fast Five” government-agent frenemy, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), on the scene of a military convoy ambush. Seeing what he’s up against in bad guy Owen Shaw (solidly menacing Luke Evans), Hobbs goes to Dom and asks for help. Time to get the rest of the far-flung band back together — gearhead Tej (Ludacris), amusingly high-livin’ Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and lovey-dovey Han and Gisele (Sung Kang and Gal Gadot). There’s a significant incentive: Dom’s lovergirl, Letty (Rodriguez), a fourth-episode casualty, is mysteriously back among the living, and hanging with Shaw.
A chunk of the action takes place in London, but the location’s flashiest showcase, Team Toretto’s high-speed pursuit of Shaw’s crew, flirts with incoherence on a “Transformers” scale. “It’s like we’re huntin’ our evil twins,” Roman later jokes — which, if you do the character math, explains the movie’s occasional overload problem pretty clearly. A continental cars-versus-tank duel, by contrast, is comparatively streamlined — and wildly adrenalizing. And some of the best stuff stays off the roads entirely. Take Lin’s electrifying staging of a pair of intercut Tube station brawls, including one between Letty and Hobbs’s new lieutenant (former mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, “Haywire”).
At more leisurely, less furious moments, meanwhile, the cast shows the easy chemistry that comes with having now done a couple of these all-hands-on-deck episodes. Gibson in particular has fun with the “Ocean’s Eleven” vibe, although it’s hard to figure why he’s the butt of ginormous-forehead jokes with Diesel and the Rock on hand. Dom and Letty’s star-crossed love story also works, in its steroidally melodramatic way. We do sort of buy that he’s always there for her, even at bodily ejection speed.Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.