By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Odds are the flock of fifteen-year-old boys who excitedly drooled over “Fast & Furious 6” in the theater where I painfully attempted to make hide or hair of said sociocultural pandemonium on a recent rainy afternoon won’t read this negative review. But if they do, I think they’ll politely agree and then add, “Yeah, but it’s great.”
A detonated piñata of special effects, it is of and for their time, and while it is a matter of conjecture whether franchise holder Universal Studios has created or responded to this entertainment need, only its intended audience truly fathoms the duality. Yes, it is junk. But it is their junk. Bemoaning how the series has driven off course, I am left in the dust.
Flash backwards. “The Fast and the Furious” is released in 2001. Auto enthusiasts attest that, while no great film, it plumbs the essence of its generation’s gear heads. Evolving out of economic necessity and changing tastes, the new hot rod is a small displacement, usually Japanese make, hopped up to potential and euphemistically called a rice rocket.
I get it, and happily confirm on one sunny day a thread that exists across the car guy continuum when, seated in the sort of flivver I could only dream about when I was 17, I pulled up to an example of the new breed. The soup can muffler blurted its genre. Its two young occupants, baseball caps donned backwards, nervously welcomed my inspection.
Likewise, they took in the plastic, steel, rubber and glass that could only be piloted by full grown adults, spoiled children and thieves. While the stoplight afforded the meeting, we each issued soft, respectful revs. That done with, and wistfully hoping to be the cool old guy, I assayed, “’Fast & Furious,’ huh?” I will never forget their appreciative smiles.
You see, the original movie, not unlike the first model year of what might become a classic automobile design, evoked a creative purity. It came off the fat end of the bat, inspired by the energies of art, invention and a new way of seeing something. Sadly, with few exceptions, succeeding designs/films are adulterated by all manner of fins and frills.
Thus, this 6th permutation is encumbered by bevies of convoluted segues and the kind of driveling lore that can’t help but accumulate when a studio seeks to capitalize on what was probably a bit of dumb luck. While installment #1 was an astute treatise about cars with a little crime thrown in to grease the way, the series has made a full U-turn.
Now, street racing co-protagonists Dominic Toretto of the East L.A. Torettos, and Paul Walker’s Waspy Brian O’Conner, a cop gone bad, then good, then bad again (you need a scoreboard) would even impress 007 with their international crime creds. As “6” opens, they are ostensibly retired, enjoying the fruits of their wrongdoing, albeit in forced exile.
Utilizing the recruiting stratagem iconically established in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) as its story-opening exposition, a roundup of The Team is prompted when über G.I. Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, petitions Toretto’s help. Shaw (Luke Evans), a global terrorist, is gearing up for a deadly blackmail rampage. But why bother the Seals?
Nah, a bunch of hot rodders is best. Problem is, living off the $100 Million in ill-gotten gains Diesel’s Toretto et al filched from a drug lord in edition #5, there is little incentive to abet The Man. However, Hobbs has two carrots. He informs that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dominic’s lover thought dead, is in Shaw’s employ. P.S. – She has amnesia.
Secondly, if the gang takes down the former British Special Forces soldier, all will be granted full pardons and allowed back into the U.S. Surely Brian, Mia and their new baby would gladly trade their villa in the Canary Islands for that shack in East L.A. The others, each representing a different ethnicity a la Blackhawk Squadron, are keen to help.
So, not only have the cars taken a backseat to the typical, world domination/terrorist action formula, but adding insult to injury the tale has preposterously detoured to Soap Operaville. Mr. Diesel’s sanctimonious pontificating about “family” is matched in its egregiousness only by the contest he wages with The Rock to see who the worst actor is.
And alas, most insufferable, yours truly, whose big sister Ann took pride in little bro’s ability to identify cars (i.e.-“That’s a 1940 Chevy!”), was hard put to spot the marques and models through the miasma of Sturm und Drang. Car buffs stand a better chance of finding an honest mechanic than getting a truly satisfying ride from “Fast & Furious 6.”
“Fast & Furious 6,” rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Justin Lin and stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez. Running time: 130 minutes