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Review: Fast and the Furious 6

Fast and Furious 6

We all got a weak spot.

Another review that should have been up weeks ago, and another attempt at keeping it short.

The Fast and the Furious is a f**king ridiculous franchise.

How it got to this point, or why it even exists is beyond me. Nevertheless, here it stands in all its muscle-brained glory. As a fan of the first film, Fast Six is almost unrecognisable from its origins. What started off as a small film about rival LA gangs that drove cars, rode bikes and threatened to beat each other up every now and then, has evolved into the kind of brainless, tentpole action film that brings in the big bucks.

Fast and the Furious 5 redeemed the series from the disappointment of Fast and Furious with an interesting deviation on its well-trodden formula. It dropped the street racing, undercover police shenanigans and revenge plots; transforming into a heist movie with some demented action. The introduction of Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs added an intensity and energy that the franchise lacked. Taking it to Rio gave it a change of surroundings. It teetered on being dumb (if it wasn’t already), but Fast Five was recklessly fun and enjoyable.

And so with Fast Six we’ve hit something of barrier. Five was such a success, unexpectedly so, that it would be hard to top it without careering headfirst into stupidity.

And that’s effectively what Fast Six does.

To write a synopsis of this film, i’d have to explain what came before, so intricate and weirdly complex is the franchise’s backstory. It extends to this film, retroactively inserting Luke Evan’s villain into Fast and the Furious and hoping you’ll remember what happened in that film.

It goes for ridiculousness and stupidity and delivers. That isn’t something to look down upon; Fast Six isn’t a bad film. Not quite. Travelling around the world, from Russia to London then Spain, it’s far more ambitious than you would think. Its established a certain type of action and expectations to go with it – go big or go home. But it still holds in its motorized heart the characters from the first film. It becomes bigger and more ’emotional’ but you sense the cast and crew care more for the characters than the audience would.

In taking that road, it veers towards becoming a parody of itself. There’s a lot of talk about ‘family’, but it doesn’t ring true when surrounded by copious amounts of vehicular carnage. These characters have long stopped being real, if they ever were in the first place. The amount of importance attached to some characters, whose names I couldn’t tell you, is something of a bugbear. Five previous films, with a huge cast that needs to be serviced and each with a moment in the spotlight. It’s too big, too awkward and problematic. The only kind of ‘family’ that would have these adventures would be seen in a fantasy cartoon/TV show from 60s. It’s become completely divorced from reality and its hard to take what the characters are saying without a dollop of cheese.

Of course if you were only ever looking for fun then Fast Six delivers. Technically its the biggest, most spectacular entry in the franchise, but on the odd occasion looks like some scenes were rushed/re-shot in post. Dwayne Johnson’s beard at one point changes from shot-to-shot (shaved – full on – back to shaved). The opening scene doesn’t look like its set in Russia but on a bridge in London. In a way it’s made up for by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torretto taking someone out with a flying headbutt. And that’s before he drives through the nose of an exploding plane.

Its still fun but the visual/action excess is making this series top-heavy. With the end credits coda anticipating the next film, this ‘franchise’ won’t have time to cool down. It might be necessary as it’s starting to run out of gas (sorry).

6/10

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Review: Fast and the Furious – Rio Heist

Fast 5

We find them; we take them as a team and we bring them back. And above all else, we never ever let them get into cars.

It’s stunning to see the Fast and the Furious franchise reach its fifth instalment. Who would have thought that in 2001 that The Fast and the Furious would have gone on to have another four instalments?

As a franchise it delivers a specific kind of spectacle that’s undemanding and occasionally underwhelms. The fifth entry it goes some way to getting back to the original’s spirit.

After Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is liberated from a prison transport, we find our protagonists on the run in Brazil with the tempting setup of one last job on the table so they can disappear forever and stop running from the law. Up against a Brazilian drug lord and being chased by US Federals, Toretto and his gang orchestrate an audacious attempt; to steal $100 million dollars.

As the series has progressed there it’s established a cartoonish vibe with some ridiculous stunts. Rio Heist brings it back a semblance of normalcy even if it treads a fine line between reality and complete disbelief.

It helps that most of the original cast are back along with a few stragglers from the second and third. There’s an easy rapport that makes the constant proclamations about family ring true.

Hobbs played by Dwayne Johnson is probably the best thing in the film bar the car chases. Constantly sweating, he’s a no-nonsense Federal agent. He even looks like Vin Diesel’s evil twin in a bad soap opera, and when they get to fight it’s everything that Clash of the Titans should have been.

What lets down Rio Heist is a thinly sketched villain in Joaquim de Almeida’s crime boss and an action in third act that’s wholly illogical and laughable.

Rio Heist is good, it’s not clever but it’s fun and undemanding and its main remit is to devise ways in which it can fling cars at one another but the franchise is never going to reach the heights of generally being excellent. It’s a B-film, a diversion and a fun one at that.

7/10

Review: Faster

Faster

God can’t save you from me!

When an action film is called Faster you go in expecting a few things. One thought is a tagline that manages to feebly contextualise its title in some way (slow justice is no justice).

Another would imagine the film had some reference to driving and you’d be partially correct. On this basis, you may even expect something tense and exciting, that hurtles across the screen at breakneck speed. What you won’t expect is a very anaemic offering.

Faster is not a complete trainwreck. It knows what it wants to be but it doesn’t convince in its attempts. Dwayne Johnson is Driver, an ex-con released from prison who is out to avenge the death of his big brother after their gang was double-crossed.

He’s tracked by a cop who’s called Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and an assassin named Killer (Oliver Jackson Cohen), each out to stop Driver for their own reasons not revealed at the start. The point of swapping their names for monikers is probably a reference to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, although it serves to prove how hollow and derivative these characters are.

While the theme of the toll revenge takes on the soul is one that the film works its way towards, the characters are rarely interesting. Things happen. Menacing words are voiced. People are killed. The end.

While Johnson embodies a man who’s a whirling dervish of violence, the film itself veers from dour to erratic and boring.

Thornton’s is suitably grim as a cop who’s a burnt out addict on his way to retirement, but Cohen as the Killer exists in a completely different film. His character is a neurotic, egotistical but driven assassin but he and the storyline is distracting and uninvolving.

Ultimately what sinks Faster are pretensions of seriousness. It’s not trash, but it’s not exciting either, plodding along and never gelling as a complete experience. If you’re still thinking about that title, think tortoise rather than hare to get an idea of what to expect.

5/10

Also available to read at MouthLondon

Review: Southland Tales

southland-tales_e2cfc57e

I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide

Donnie Darko is a difficult watch, a film that for some (or maybe most) is hard to warm to and leave the viewer confused about where it was all going and to what end. It’s a piece of work that informs Richard Kelly’s new film Southland Tales, a film that’s hard to pin down.

Southland Tales is a strange, capricious and downright odd film. It’s certainly a unique film and director Richard Kelly doesn’t sacrifice his ambition for audience comprehension, although it might have been wise to drop the intellectual posturing for some accessibility. It plays like a mix of Robert Altman and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Southland Tales is set after the U.S has been attacked (a nuclear bomb in Texas). The country has gone to war with the Middle East. Taking place in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008 as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster, Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) is an action star suffering from amnesia.

His life is intertwined with Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an adult film star developing a reality television project and Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott), a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. Oh, and something about the fourth dimensional spilling open. It’s a dense, sprawling meta-narrative that’s hard to make sense of.

You’ll need to watch it several times (and several more after) to unravel Tale‘s narrative. It has plenty to say on a number of topics whether it’s rampant commercialism (Hustler advertised on a military tank), the sexualisation of advertising, the US Government infringing on privacy or a satirical commentary on US culture through the Krysta Now segments. Nevertheless you’d prefer it reigned its focus in as all these narrative strands threaten to escape from Kelly’s grasp.

It’s not helped by the feeling that the story is half a narrative. When a title card beckons chapter 4 you immediately wonder where chapter 1, 2 and 3 are. It’s a dense story made more frustrating by the sense that some understanding could have been gleaned if there were more backstory. It makes Lost seem accessible by comparison.

However if you’re willing to hold out until the drawn out finale, it is one that turns into a transcendental statement of our times if you can figure out what it all means. Some characters are on the periphery, others you wonder about their purpose and whether the film could have been better off if they were cut. Justin Timberlake may be the narrator but his character is superfluous to the plot.

Despite all that, it’s watchable if you have patience. It’s a mess – not quite a car crash that some people have made it out to be – but definitely a film that, while ambitious, is difficult to comprehend.

5/10

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