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Fast & Furious 6

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If the entirety of the nitro-burning delirium that is Fast & Furious 6 were just Gina Carano fighting Michelle Rodriguez, it would be the best movie of the year — a new-millennium Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, something nobody's been able to deliver since Russ Meyer died.

Regrettably, though, Furious 6 comes loaded with a bunch of other intrigue — something about a renegade heister trying to assemble a device that would knock out an entire country's power infrastructure for a day. Not that you need to worry about the plot, which is about as essential here as an operating manual is to a dam burst.

Wait, you say, wasn't Rodriguez killed off in the fourth installment? The answer: sort of, but yeah, but no. The filmmakers have brought back her character, Letty Ortiz, which is good; in a healthy sign for our culture, every franchise that has killed off Rodriguez has also brought her back to life. Yet it's unfortunate that the Fast & Furious series couldn't pick up the more progressive attitudes of the Resident Evil franchise, because this movie's gender issues are all messed up.

Letty functions mostly as the movie's pivot, an objective for Dominic (Vin Diesel, just as you remember him) and his crew to recapture. Four more women are on the periphery of this endeavor. Two are devoted to their respective men and send them off to do man stuff, like infiltrate prisons or track down amnesiac ex-girlfriends, while they tend to the children. The other two kick a significant amount of ass and have just as much agency and power in their relationships as their respective partners. Guess which ones die?

Granted, the cast seems to be having a blast, for the most part. Paul Walker looks tired. That's just an observation — he's playing a new father, so perhaps it's a method approach. Similarly, Vin Diesel looks off, as though he's an unstable fusion of a Greek statue and the Pillsbury Doughboy, constantly shifting so you never see him the same way twice. (Get this man a David Cronenberg body-horror extravaganza.) Ludacris and Tyrese have a breezy rapport as the comic relief, but they aren't ridiculous when called upon to get serious.

Carano takes a chickenshit role and turns it into chicken salad. Building on her lead in Steven Soderbergh's deconstructed action masterpiece Haywire, she kicks, flings, punches and whoops the ass of your heart. The moment when Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson brings down a tractor of a man with his elbow elicited an ooh of awe at my screening, but Carano's fight scenes got at least four.

At times, Furious 6 starts to feel like a Saw film (which is funny given that James Wan, who directed the first Saw, is at the helm of the seventh FF movie) or one of the Star Wars prequels. Those associations come to mind not because of special effects or tone, though, but because screenwriter Chris Morgan (who has written every film in the series since the third installment, Tokyo Drift) makes a point of connecting all the characters' backstories. It's a big problem — the franchise is now so entrenched in its "family" of racers and scofflaws that it can't introduce new characters that matter. No effort seems to have been made to figure out the last reel's big twist, a development that could have been earthshaking, were it not rendered in such an obvious and perfunctory way.

That said, the coda tucked away just after the end credits start is a mother of a scene, one that sets the stage for mayhem in that seventh film. It almost makes up for the overload of exposition and the muddled climax. And the series still hasn't lost sight of what it does best: attractive people, the destruction of property, fast cars, betrayal, forgiveness, intrigue. For the sixth time, it delivers.

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