NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
Twelve years on from the surprise hit The Fast and the Furious – a car-themed spin on Point Break, which was itself a gloss on White Heat (there was even a pre-Point Break car version of the story, No Man’s Land) – the increasingly expansive and expensive series is still going on, gleefully embracing its descent into self-parody, sucking back in original stars who vainly thought they might have careers outside the franchise (even character death is no guarantee of escape) and staying in the game by delivering bigger and more ridiculous action scenes than anything else around. Plus it has a whole homoerotic thing going for it as impossibly muscled and/or chiselled men thump or stare longingly at each other while the script blathers on about code and family values (the gang here end up saying grace!) and the screen is littered with babes in bikinis and sleek fast cars that only serve to highlight the way Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Paul Walker smoulder in each other’s presence.
At two hours ten minutes, this is too long for fluff, and every scene seems extended beyond its optimal length – the climax involves cars trying to stop a plane taking off, and seems to be set on a hundred-mile runway. It’s also strangled by continuity, with reworked footage from the first film to reveal that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) didn’t die (that was the sting coda of Fast Five) and from the third (which takes place after this) to reveal that Han (Sung Kang) didn’t just die in an accident in Tokyo. The accumulated gang of characters is now so unwieldy that many of them (especially the women) make token appearances and sit it out. Jordana Brewster and Elsa Pataky, kickass in earlier episodes, are now thin hostages to the plot. By having a baby, Brewster’s character just stays at home until it’s time to be kidnapped: a waste of an actress who used to get better opportunities (in the superspy action lesbian rom-com DEBS, for instance). Rodriguez is back (with amnesia) and Gina Carano of Haywire is new on the scene , so there are at least two catfight scenes to represent female toughness in this sea of testosterone.
Last time out, the FFs demolished most of Brazil and good bad guy Dom (Diesel) and cop-turned-noble-outlaw Brian (Walker) were pursued by good good guy Hobbs (Johnson). Now, a gang of dark doppelganger FF car-based thieves led by ex-SAS baddie Owen Shaw (Luke Evans – a bland baddie) are assembling the components of a mcguffin doodad and pulling off heists around Europe, and Hobbs uses a sighting of Letty on Shaw’s crew to persuade Dom and his merry band to team up with Interpol to bring in the villains. Most of the film is set in a version of London that will prove hilarious to local audiences. A number 4 bus, always well off its route, keeps turning up in every street scene, and there’s a ludicrously contrived bit of urban geography in a race through Piccadilly Circus to Battersea. There’s even a chase through the Mersey Tunnel. We have to assume Dom pays the congestion charge and stays out of bus lanes. Also tipped in are Joe Taslim from The Raid, who gets to beat up Kang and Tyrese Gibson (the Diesel substitute in 2 Fast 2 Furious who is now just here to stay in the game) on Waterloo Station, and evil blonde Clara Paget – while Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges is superfluous comedy relief in a film which is funniest when played straight, Gal Gadot just dangles gorgeously until her plot gets tied off in the climax (her last stunt is a doozy) and Shea Whigham (one of the most talented and underused actors of his generation) gets his nose broken again.
Justin Lim, now ensconced as the series’ director, can stage a good action moment (a flying lovers’ leap across a Spanish elevated motorway during a tank-vs-muscle-car chase is among the single best ridiculous bits in any action movie ever), while the series keeps coming up with impressive novelty vehicles (Shaw’s armoured racing car with scoop-bonnet for flipping oncoming traffic into second-storey windows is especially cool). This time, everything is just pumped up a bit past bursting point – it’s fun, but it’s exhausting, and the knowing camp too often just becomes laughably stupid.
However, after an embarrassing domestic happiness coda, the reworked Tokyo Drift footage coda is an irresistible hook for a Part Seven, bringing on yet another face-you-want-to-see-in-this-series (no, it’s not Simon Pegg) as a vengeance-seeking brother…