The dialogue is slack, but apart from that the latest Fast & Furious installment, Fast & Furious 6, is more fun than any fifth sequel except Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — which gets the edge because Nicholas Meyer made The Wrath of Khan, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Resident F&F director Justin Lin has a touch that’s surprisingly delicate for a series featuring muscle cars and hardbodies. It’s almost … feminine, at least if your definition of femininity is open enough to admit two women swivel-kicking each other to a pulp. Lin also loves cars enough to make them look as if they’re subject to the laws of gravity rather than the logarithms of computer programmers. The driving in the film is a thing of beauty.
The theme of 6 is family. The word itself comes up approximately 682 times. Vin Diesel and his multiracial outlaw gang are living well-heeled lives in countries without U.S. extradition. Renegade ex-lawman Paul Walker and wife Jordana Brewster have a kid, which means they’ve opted out of the outlaw business. So has Diesel. But who should show up but U.S. cop Dwayne Johnson — so muscle-bound that his arms can’t go lower than a 45-degree angle from his sides — who interrupts his alpha-masculine glowering contest with Diesel to asks for help in tracking down a terroristic gang of thieves led by Luke Evans. The reason Diesel might yield? One of Evans’s gang members appears to be Vin’s old squeeze Michelle Rodriguez, who was killed (or so we thought) in the F&F before last. “We both said we were gonna leave this life behind, but family comes first,” says Diesel to Walker. “You don’t turn your back on family,” says Walker.
The disparate members of that family — among them Sung Kang, Tyrese Gobson, Ludacris, and kick-ass Israeli beauty queen Gal Gadot — reunite for what turns out to be a kind of maniacal edition of Family Feud. (“It’s like we’re huntin’ our evil twins!”) Evans has a “family” with roughly the same number of members covering the same number of racial and sexual bases — except that he regards each member as replaceable. He tells them as much, which strikes me as an ineffective way to win the loyalty of his troops: He should have told them they’re all precious, each and every one, even if he intended to screw them over down the line. But he can’t pretend to be something he isn’t. He has too much integrity. In any case, his callousness gives pause to Rodriguez — even if she doesn’t quite know why his definition of family leaves her feeling a big emptiness inside that can only be filled by Vin’s diesel. She has, you see, amnesia.
Big, baldy Diesel looks as puny against bigger baldy Johnson as I would look against Diesel — but he wins the match against the Rock on points, thanks to his mellifluous basso belch of a voice and his charisma. Yes, F&F is the one place where “Vin Diesel” and “charisma” can be used in the same sentence without the addition of “has no.” He is unquestionably a star in this series. And so is Rodriguez, his female counterpart. She has had serious biceps since Girl Fight but has now learned from Diesel the power of staying still and slitting one’s eyes. Or maybe he learned it from her. They egg each other on. Although they’re in rival gangs, the pair finally decides to race each other. “Show me how you drive and I’ll show you who you are,” says Diesel — a sobering thought if you live, like me, in Brooklyn and hope you’re seeing the worst as opposed to the essence of people. But maybe he means driving with eighteen cop cars on your tail.
The head-rocking airport martial arts battle between Rodriguez and Gina Carano (as Johnson’s No. 2) gets more amazing as it goes along — my only complaint is that a rematch at the end of the movie is an inevitable comedown. Evans escapes at one point in what should have been the Batmobile in Christopher Nolan’s pictures — a tank that’s sleek and trim and aerodynamic instead of square and lumbering. The nonstop pissy-moany banter between Ludacris and Gibson is funny enough to transcend the spectacle of black guys doing comic relief for the groundlings. In the finale, Lin juggles all the different sub-climaxes (fists, guns, cars, planes) with impressive dexterity. A shocking denouement during the final credits bodes well (and ill) for Diesel & Company’s next outing. If Fast & Furious 6 proves anything, it’s that there is, indeed, emotion in motion.