Vin Diesel and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are so pumped up, so anatomically inflated and unlikely that when they have a confrontation in "Fast & Furious 6," it's like watching a pair of unmoored Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons bump against each other.
Giant vulcanized renditions of Underdog and Charlie Brown probably have more interesting conversations, however. Lines spoken in "Fast & Furious 6" include: "I got this"; "This should be interesting"; "Talk to me" (i.e., share with me your "intel"); 'Let's roll"; and "You don't turn your back on family."
The latter has become the trite theme of the "Fast & Furious" franchise, as if this ensemble of moonlighting bodybuilders, supermodels and rappers, thrown together intermittently over the course of six movies in a dozen years, is united by loyalty to each other rather than by love of a paycheck.
To which a wise man might respond: So what? Unlike most movie franchises, which stay in the race even after they've run out of gas, the "Fast & Furious" films, for the most part, have become more popular and more satisfyingly spectacular with each sequel.
"Furious 6," like the previous three entries, was directed by Sundance graduate-turned-blockbuster auteur Justin Lin, whose track record is enviable enough to cause the O's in the Hollywood sign to drool. Lin's debut entry, "The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift" (2006), earned $158 million worldwide; "Fast & Furious" (2009) more than doubled that, with a $359 million international gross. Two years later, "Fast Five" reached $629 million.
With its literal bank-vault heist (a nice metaphor for what Lin has done with the box office), the outrageous "Fast Five" was perhaps the most entertaining film in the series. "Furious 6" adds real-life martial artist Gina Carano to the already overcrowded ensemble, but otherwise is a lesser effort than its predecessor, primarily because its two gigantic and protracted set pieces -- one involving a tank on a bridge, the other concerning the pursuit of a cargo plane -- become too ridiculous to be believed.
A more accurate title for this franchise might be "Fast & Loose," in reference to its hit-and-run attitude toward the laws of physics, but past sequels typically were fleet enough to leave such concerns in the dust. The scene in which our heroes hauled an enormous vault through the streets of Rio in "Fast Five," for example, was absurd, but presented with such conviction and bravado that we were happy to accept it.
The leaps onto passing autos and other silly stunts in "Furious 6," however, became speed bumps to my enjoyment. Even the presence of Carano didn't make up for this: Lin -- unlike Steven Soderbergh, who recruited Carano to the movies with his 2011 release, "Haywire" -- shoots and cuts her brawls in ways that fail to make her appear any more skilled at fighting than her actress opponents.
The economical title of "Fast Five" seemed an attempt to pre-empt and embrace the fanboy culture that (for example) immediately reduced "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" to "T2." Although advertisements and press materials tout the new movie as "Fast & Furious 6," the film is identified onscreen simply as "Furious 6." The suggestion is that the pace is so frenetic that to add more letters to the screen would be a waste of time; as it to corroborate this theory, when characters speak in foreign languages here, the subtitles race onto the screen from "off camera," as if the words were in a hurry and had somewhere else to go.
If the vibe is hyper, the plotting is lazy. (Chris Morgan, who has worked on all Lin's "Fast & Furious" movies, is the credited screenwriter.) Presumed dead at the end of the 2009 sequel, tough girl Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the true love of the series' star street racer, Dominic Toretto (Diesel), is reintroduced with the explanation that she's been suffering from amnesia. She's also gone bad, working for criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who wants to steal a military device worth "billions." Shaw's ethnically diverse collaborators are described as the "evil twins" of the "Fast & Furious" ensemble, a potentially amusing notion that's not exploited for its full Bizarro potential, even after U.S. agent Hobbs (Johnson) recruits Dom and his gang -- actors Paul Walker, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, primarily -- to help him stop Shaw.
The movie begins and ends with a "Fast & Furious 6" hip-hop theme song that includes the lyrics, "Only God can judge me." Somebody needs to tell rappers 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa about RottenTomatoes.com.
(John Beifuss writes for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. His movie blog is www.TheBloodshotEye.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com)