Fast & Furious 6 has the best girlfight since Russ Meyer died. If the entirety of this nitro-burning delirium could have been just Gina Carano versus Michelle Rodriguez, it would be the best movie of the year — the new-millennium Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! nobody's been able to deliver.
Regrettably, though, Furious 6 comes loaded with a bunch of other intrigue — something about a renegade heister trying to assemble a device that would knock out an entire country's power infrastructure for a day. The good thing is you needn't worry too much about it, as plot is about as essential here as an operating manual is to a damburst.
Wait, you say — wasn't Rodriguez killed off in the fourth installment? The answer is: sort of, but yeah, but no. The filmmakers brought back her character Letty Ortiz, which is good; it's a healthy sign for our culture that all the franchises that have killed off Michelle Rodriguez have brought her back to life. Yet it's unfortunate that the Fast/Furious series couldn't pick up the more progressive attitudes of the Resident Evil franchise, because this movie's gender issues are all messed up.
Letty functions mostly as the movie's pivot, an objective for Dominic (Vin Diesel, just as you remember him) and his crew to recapture. There are four more women on the periphery of this endeavor. Two are devoted to their respective men and send them off to do man stuff like infiltrate prisons or track down amnesiac ex-girlfriends while they tend to the children. The other two kick a significant amount of ass (of both sexes) and have just as much agency and power in their relationships as their respective partners. Guess which ones die?
There's also another random lady who specializes in doing things with steely white hair — that's it, that's her specialty — while several dozen other women pop up for the big central race and an assion show, which is what happens when you have a big gathering of hot people to show the latest fashions in ass.
The cast, for the most part, seems to be having a lot of fun. Paul Walker looks tired. That's not meant as some sort of bitchy cut-down, just an observation — he is playing a new father, so perhaps it's a Method approach. Similarly, Vin Diesel looks — off. Like he got stuck in the middle of some transformation. Like he's an unstable fusion of a Greek statue and a Pillsbury doughboy, but the fusion is constantly shifting so you never see the same thing twice. (Get this man a David Cronenberg body-horror extravaganza.) But Ludacris and Tyrese have a fun, breezy rapport. Though they are the comic relief, they have the added bonus of not being completely ridiculous when they attempt to get serious.
And ah, Gina Carano — this is taking a chickenshit role and turning it into chicken salad. Building on her lead in Steven Soderbergh's deconstructed action masterpiece Haywire, she kicks, flings, punches and whoops the ass of your heart. The moment when Dwayne "The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock" Johnson brings down a tractor of a man with his elbow definitely elicited an "oooh" of awe at my screening — but Carano's fight scenes got at least four.
At times, Furious 6 starts to feel like a Saw film — rather ironic, as James Wan, who directed the first Saw, is helming the seventh FF installment — or one of the Star Wars prequels. That's not an association pertaining to effects or tone, but more to the way that screenwriter Chris Morgan (who's written every film in the series since the third installment, Tokyo Drift) makes a point of connecting all the characters' backstories. It's a big problem, because the franchise is becoming so entrenched in its "family" of racers and scofflaws that it can't introduce new characters into the mix and have them matter. Hence it takes no effort whatsoever to figure out the last reel's big shocking twist — a development that could have been earthshaking, were it not rendered in such an obvious and perfunctory way.
That said, the coda tucked away just after the end credits start is a mother of a scene, and it definitely sets the stage for mayhem in the forthcoming seventh installment (even as it manages a temporal feat along the lines of Final Destination 5's climactic whopper). It almost makes up for the overload of exposition — two needless setpieces introduce a word that's never been attached to this series, "slack" — and the muddled airplane climax. (Also, as with Star Trek Into Darkness and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, London gets its ass kicked for no good reason.) The beauty of the Fast/Furious films is that they never lose sight of some of the movies' simplest joys — attractive people, destruction of property, fast cars, betrayal, forgiveness, intrigue. For the sixth time, the series delivers.