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Friday, 31 January 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Fast & Furious 6

Directed by: Justin Lin

Produced by: Neal H. Moritz
Vin Diesel
Clayton Townsend

Screenplay by: Chris Morgan

Based on: 'Characters' by Gary Scott Thompson

Starring: Vin Diesel
Paul Walker
Dwayne Johnson
Michelle Rodriguez
Jordana Brewster
Tyrese Gibson
Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges
Sung Kang
Luke Evans
Gina Carano
John Ortiz

Music by: Lucas Vidal

Cinematography by: Stephen F. Windon

Editing by: Christian Wagner
Kelly Matsumoto

Studio(s): Original Film
One Race Films

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): May 7, 2013 (London Premier)
May 17, 2013 (United Kingdom)
May 24, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 125 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $160 million

Box-office revenue: $788, 679, 850

Now, this is a film blog, granted but I'm going to have to give a quick five dimes on certain events going on in the professional wrestling world. Sunday's Royal Rumble pay-per-view was effectively hijacked by the wrestling fans, who voiced their disapproval rather loudly at the booking, particularly in relation to Daniel Bryan, arguably the most popular wrestler since Stone Cold Steve Austin, the guy who should clearly be the face of the company. This appears to have been the straw that broke the camel's back for CM Punk, who reports are saying has walked out on WWE six months before his contract expires. Punk, in my opinion, is the hardest working wrestler of the past decade, and so it's a shame to see the best in the world go, and I think this will affect WWE in the long run more than they can imagine. So, for all the latest and greatest in the world of professional wrestling (and the occasional film review ;), keep your eyes posted!

Alright well, today's film up for review is Fast & Furious 6 aka Furious 6 aka Fast Six or whatever the hell they wanna call this movie: the DVD case says Fast & Furious 6, but the title at the end of the credits sequence says Furious 6, and I rewound to check I wasn't missing some spinning logo or something. To give a bit of context of the Fast & Furious film series, which has become Universal's highest-grossing franchise of all-time, a fact I find to be very strange given the Universal 'Monsters' period of the 1930s and it's long association with Steven Spielberg, I have seen all but 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift. The first was a pretty good, but not as good as everyone remembers movie which had some fine car chases and was one of three movies (along with Pitch Black and XXX) that sought to make Vin Diesel a major action star. After his star waned in the mainstream, Diesel and the whole gang decided to fall in line with the mid-late noughties trend of rebooting franchises, only that this one was about eight years old and not akin to the decades long stretches we saw in the Die Hard, Rocky, Rambo and Indiana Jones franchises. Put simply, Fast & Furious was a pile of hooey, a horrible bilious mixture of wonton destruction amidst a street racing movie and a monstrously self-important movie about morality and redemption. I think everyone involved recognised the weakness of that film, and thus in 2011 we got Fast Five, a movie which, while by no means perfect, was wholly refreshing, reinvigorating a stagnant franchise about street racing into what was essentially a heist movie. After the warm reception of that movie, the plans to turn the series around paid off, and what we have in this sequel is in a similar vein: following the successful Rio heist, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) have retired from the criminal world, living with their respective spouses Elena (Elsa Pataky) and Dominic's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), who gives birth to her and Brian's son at the beginning of the film. However, DSS agents Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Riley Hicks (Gina Carano) are investigating the destruction of a military convoy in Moscow by former British Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), and manages to persuade Dominic to gather his crew together and infiltrate Shaw's gang by showing him a recent photo of his supposedly-deceased lover Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) working for Shaw. Got that? Good!

To start off with what's right about FF6 (I've decided from hereon to refer the film by way of this helpful acronym), the decision made by the producers and writer Chris Morgan to take the series away from pure street racing into a series of heist movies was a stroke of genius. There's only so much you can do with street racing, and with the heist format there are any number of possibilities, including the odd street race or too, so it hasn't been completely done with. Morgan also wrote the malignant 47 Ronin, but without the inappropriate clash of styles with Hossein Amini, he just rights some right and good action sequences. After the success of Fast Five, we've went further down the loophole: much of the film is set in London, and if you know anything about London (as I do), the streets aren't exactly designed for chases, and aside 2012's The Sweeney, haven't seen many. However, through ingenuity and just outright gall, we have incredible chase scenes full of chaos and wanton destruction. I've criticised this franchise before, but I've always felt they've kept up the fine tradition of the car chase. Not only do we have car chases, we have gun battles, foot chases in the London Underground and some of the most hard-hitting martial arts action scenes in a mainstream Western film I can remember seeing. Morgan's just been given the ball and ran with it, creating an utterly ridiculous, absurd, but kind of awesome action environment, culminating in one of the most outrageous and bizarre action scenes in film history. Also, you'd like to think that for all the effort that has been put into coming up with this stuff that the stunt team, however daunting the challenge may be, would be up to scratch, and they certainly are. Everyone who reads this blog knows I'm a sucker for crazy stunt-driven action movies (incidentally, when are the Oscars going to ever get a Best Stunts award? Surely it's long overdue...), and this completely whetted my appetite. It's one thing putting things down on paper, but execution is another thing altogether and the choreography is of a consistently high standard. Quite clearly it's practised down to a tee, and yet with so much going on we are given the illusion that at any moment a car could be totalled. The same could be said for the gun battles and fight scenes, which have this palpable element of danger to them. I remember last year people were salivating over The Raid, which won my award for Best Stunt Work last year, but I think the compendium of chaos presented here is right up there with the best I've seen in my time as a reviewer. Also, the film is appropriately shot and edited. I know I always make this argument, but it always rings true: 'ensure that the audience can see what is going on in an action movie.' I'm a big proponent of that philosophy, for while I think the likes of the Bourne movie do shaky-cam well, most don't, instead giving you nausea, and also, isn't more respectful to the craft of those stunt teams involved to display and show their work? Here, I got to see everything that was going on, and yet the editing was done in such a way, alongside the constant banging, clanging, smashing and crashing of the sound design that I was left genuinely aghast: not in the sense that I was horrified, but in genuine shock that an entire group of people took $160 million to go to London and make and put onscreen the kind of scenarios kids come up with playing with their Lego bricks. It is absolutely outrageous, over-the-top and I had a hell of a lot of fun with Fast & Furious 6.

Now, here comes the negative, which I wish I could say "it pains me to say," but frankly the bad stuff is as much part and parcel to the madness of this movie as the good stuff. Morgan is a writer who can do action, I mean, he was hardly going to write the soap opera stuff for 47 Ronin (Wings Of A Dove writer Hossein Amini still couldn't save it), and FF6 has some absolutely terrible characterisation and plotting. There is no inclination to make us really care for any of these characters whatsoever, and that'd be fine if we didn't have Vin Diesel droning on about family every now and again simply to tick off the boxes. I personally think the movie'd be better if the self-serious bullshit was left on the scrap heap, and these Adams Family Values' omission would certainly give the film a shorter (therefore better) running time. The lack of characterisation also has an impact on the actors who are supposed to be performing this stuff. Diesel drones, and frankly while Paul Walker has never been a particularly good actor outside of the first film, he says what he has to say with very little conviction. I mean, people talk about Keanu, and I'm sure there'll be some going "meh, meh, meh, let us not speak ill of the dead," but there's a point where Walker has to say something noteworthy and there's that dropout of silence movies do after a zinger, but that silence just served as an enabler for my brain to do a somersaulting WAT of incomprehension. Only big Dwayne is safe from this, but that's because the guy's so frickin' charismatic he could make The Yellow Pages sound cool. The whole central motivation for the story, Letty's return, is explained off simply in the movie by the most contrived plot point of "oh, she got amnesia from the crash, that's why we she's working with the baddies." It's the whole poxy "well she didn't die onscreen so therefore how can we know she's dead routine," a gimmick that seems to be in place for the sole purpose of whether or not fans want to see characters return, and the gimmick is used on a couple of occasions here as well. 

Fast & Furious 6 has terrible characterisation, which means the actors end up giving poor performances and it has some of really contrived plotting, full of lame gimmicks. However, I must say that this stupidity is part and parcel to the overall package, which is a hell of a lot of fun. The action scenes are preposterous and yet the stunt team splendidly pulls them off, making for some ingenious car chases and fight scenes. Also, the cinematography and editing backs them up, ensuring that not only can we see everything going on and still have a certain level of frenetic bombardment. Frankly, it's like a kid has been given the keys to the kingdom, and this is a $160 million action fanboy fetishist's fantasy, which, for all it's inherent stupidity is a highly entertaining action flick that needs to be seen to be believed.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Still stuffy (on and off, but on the whole getting better)

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