Skip to main content

You keep running your piehole and you’re going to smell an asskicking.


Fast and Furious 6
(2013)

The retooling of the Fast & Furious franchise as a heist movie, ensemble take-down thing, rather than car racing, paid off big time with Fast Five. So if you have a new formula and it works, don’t fix it. The series may have newly defined its genre, but structurally it bears most resemblance to the Bond films; the plots are a loosely stringed together series of set pieces. And they go on and on and on. Not out of a desire to progress the narrative but due to a "longer means better" template. There’s also the small matter that there are so many regulars to cater for now that anything less than two hours would be unfeasible.


This time around Vin Diesel’s Dom is beckoned from retirement by Dwayne Johnson’s formerly antagonistic DSS agent. The goal; to bring down a crew led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).  The MacGuffin is pure Bond; Shaw is attempting to build a Nightshade device, a “tech bomb” that can blind a country for 24 hours. Each robbery he pulls off is to secure a vital component. So that sets up the structure. What about the theme? Don’t worry, “We’re family” is a refrain repeated so often that you’ll be in no doubt about everyone’s motives.


Poor amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) isn’t dead after all, but she’s working for Shaw. This provides Vin with a particularly strenuous acting challenge as he tries to imply he has feelings for Rodriguez (there’s more sexual tension during Paul Walker’s one platonic scene with Letty than in the numerous ones between Dom and her). Still, both the ladies in Dom’s life concur that, “He’s an amazing guy” (which he is, it’s no inconsiderable feat to leap from a car on a bridge, grab hold of your intended in midair, and land unscathed on the bonnet of another car on another bridge). Unlike most movies, the other halves are fully on board with this notional family, Jordana Brewster practically packing off husband and father of her child Paul Walker on the mission. You’d have thought she’d want him to stay at home and not be killed. But no. These guys have extraordinary, unflinching values; they even end the movie by saying grace!


What's most interesting is that four-times-helmer Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan have pulled together the trappings of mythology and iconography from the thinnest of histories; with none of the character investment to make them fly, or any emotional depth, the reliance is purely on audience recognition. This succeeds up to a point, but it doesn't take long not to give much of a shit. Fatigue is inevitable.


There is a very democratic endowment of scenes to all the major players, but it's the comic banter of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Ludacris’ Tej that leaves a lasting impression. They have numerous amusing lines, and Gibson is a naturally very funny guy (the jokes about his “big-ass forehead” are especially chucklesome). But this is all on the same level as the movie itself; thrown together, rather than lovingly crafted. What is done is well done, but t’were well it were done wittily. Gibson is also involved in the film’s most amusing set piece, as it becomes refreshingly evident that he is no pugilist. Both he and Han (Sung Kang) take an arse-whooping from Jah (Joe Taslim) in the best movie scene set on the Tube since… Skyfall? It seemed like there was only An American Werewolf in London for years, and then two come along at once (speaking of which there are also good few London buses to behold).


Dwayne Johnson again shows he's a decent actor beneath those “Samoan Thor” muscles, but his character is perhaps the least interesting of the lot (which is really saying something). Still, he’s a guy who can turn a line like “You keep running your piehole and you’re going to smell an asskicking” into pure gold, so it’s a pleasure to have him in the ensemble.


The fella I wonder about it is Paul Walker, coasting on blockbuster cachet but even less able to attract a non F&F audience than Vin. He gets a significant enough plotline (going undercover in prison) because he’s one of the originals, but he leaves no impression. I’m sure Walker is a perfectly affable chap, but he must be counting himself very lucky that he has, by default, avoided the career wipe-out of Josh Hartnett.


Justin Lin handles the mayhem and car stunts in a superficially coherent manner (appropriate I suppose) but he is less certain with close-quarter fisticuffs. Rather than relying on the solid choreography he employs shuddery after-effects. Still, I can’t deny there’s enjoyment to be had with the gleeful bombast he brings to the car chases. An early one, through London as pursuing heroes find their cars shorting out, is only topped by the sheer excess of the aforementioned bridge sequence (“Somebody better do something. I got a tank on my ass”). Then there’s the finale, with the already much commented on interminable airport runway. That didn’t get me double-taking so much as the sight of Dom driving his car through the exploding nose of a plane. You go, Vin.


I suppose I should find the manufactured sincerity and the glib platitudes laced throughout the movie endearing  (“What you found out is for you, what we do now is for her”; eh?) but they go to highlight how disposable these movies are. They aren’t going on to attain classic status, not with this kind of writing. I’ll be interested to see what James Wan’s debut on the series brings, but not overly. The script is still from Morgan, who has pared nothing down. The departees  from Six, both regular (Gal Gadot, Kang) and one-off (Evans and Gina Carano, neither of whom make much impression) are replaced by a raft of faces, both familiar to the series (Lucas Black) and new (Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou). It looks like it will also takes a leaf out the Die Hard book; it will now be a revenge action heist movie, with the Stath surfacing at the end of Six to inflict furious wrath for the demise of little brother Evans. In a move of hilariously complex continuity that belies the Neanderthal nature of the series, the Stath is the guy who kills Han in Tokyo Drift, the actual Fast and Furious Six. I’m sure we’re all relieved that everything makes sense now.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.