"Fast & Furious 6" is the most entertaining, audacious installment of a franchise that has found its mojo after running on fumes for years.
With this latest chapter, longtime fans of the series -- box office receipts prove they actually exist -- will have plenty to cheer. But so will those who took a rain check on the perennial cinematic doormat.
At the half-dozen mark, "Fast" creators have stumbled into a winning formula: They've stopped taking themselves at all seriously. This unabashed B-flick moves so quickly you won't have time to reflect on the sillier moments.
When not being interrupted by unbearable Vin Diesel monologues about the importance of family, we're treated to jaw-dropping stunt work, ridiculous hand-to-hand combat and the most impressive set action pieces of 2013.
|'Fast & Furious 6'|
|» Rating: 3 out of 4 stars|
|» Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson|
|» Director: Justin Lin|
|» Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language|
|» Running time: 130 minutes|
Director Justin Lin accomplishes what your reviewer once considered impossible: Building anticipation for part seven.
Living on the lam after stealing $100 million in Brazil, Dom Toretto is jolted back onto the grid by DSS Agent Hobbs, his onetime foe [Dwayne Johnson]. Letty [Michelle Rodriguez], Dom's presumed-dead girlfriend, turns up in Europe, where she is helping an international criminal mastermind [Luke Evans]. Hobbs wants Dom to bring Brian [Paul Walker] and the gang back together again to take down the baddies. In exchange, they get full pardons and Dom can figure out what happened to Letty.
Yes, I understand how absurd that all sounds. Just roll with it. It's not like the film is striving for screenplay awards.
With a tip of the hat to "Ocean's Eleven," our protagonists have plenty of chemistry, riffing off one another with an effortless charm. They easily fill the downtime between the next car chase and exploding thing.
Johnson has an undeniable charisma, part of his gradual evolution into one of today's most bankable action stars. Rodriguez and former MMA fighter Gina Carano do more than fit in with the boys, delivering multiple, stunning fight sequences.
Like "Fast Five," this is a movie best experienced in a packed theater, when it becomes sort of a communal experience -- everybody cackling and embracing the dumb fun. But this isn't a so-bad-it's-good movie. The energy of the action sequences just overshadow the weaker elements of a franchise admittedly limited by a lack of narrative imagination.
Give in. Give it a chance. And you'll be treated to arguably the biggest surprise of the year.