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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Fast & Furious 6’

- - Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fast & Furious 6” begins with the growl of two beastly engines as a pair of super-powered muscle cars race down a winding road. Running side by side, the cars take each turn at top speed, fighting for dominance of the road. But when the two cars arrive at their destination, it’s revealed that the drivers are Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) — the fast friends who’ve long starred in the “Fast” film franchise.

It’s not an action scene, in other words. That’s just how these guys drive.

There’s a lot more where that came from. “Fast & Furious 6” conjures up a world that consists of little but muscle car mayhem and macho showdowns. And for those who can appreciate that sort of thing — and the series’ box office to date suggests that there are plenty who do — there’s an awful lot to like.

Indeed, the “Fast” films offer a rare, possibly unique, example of a franchise that takes six installments to truly find itself. “Fast & Furious 6” takes everything that “Fast Five” did right, and then does it more: It’s louder, it’s funnier, it’s bigger — more exciting, more over the top, and more delightfully absurd. In every way, it is a movie that is truly faster and, yes, furiouser than any of its predecessors.

Virtually all of the credit for the film’s success has to go to director Justin Lin, who has overseen the franchise since the third installment. When Mr. Lin took over, it was a flagging, mid-budget series about urban illegal racing culture that had lost all of its original cast. But starting with the fourth entry, he made the smart decision to bring back the stars of the original, and open up the series’ appeal to a wider audience. Later, he added to the cast former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who now anchors the series along with Mr. Diesel.

Over time, Mr. Lin has slowly transformed the franchise from its modest origins into a sort of streetwise, auto-centric “Ocean’s 11” — broad, big-budget, comic heist films with roaring engines at their core. Each entry has improved on the last, but it’s never quite worked all the way — until now.

That’s because Mr. Lin works so hard to please. Outside of the action sequences, there are only two types of scene: comic exposition and macho showdowns. But every one of those scenes goes full throttle, with Mr. Lin delivering exactly the sort of dopey hijinks and muscular confrontations the audience expects.

The push-it-to-the-red-line approach works especially well in the action scenes, which are the real reason to see this movie. “Fast 6’s” chase sequences are easily the most energetic and outrageous of the year. Mr. Lin still shoots too close and still edits too fast for my taste. But his action scene design and pacing are impeccable, and consistently thrilling.

Part of that is his willingness to craft scenes with a clear sequence of events, especially in a downtown chase involving a customized “flip car” that gets used as a rolling jump-ramp. Partly it’s because he’s willing to go big: A late-film sequence involving a military convoy, a tank and a pack of souped-up street racers is utterly ridiculous, and even more entertaining.

Of course, ridiculous, and ridiculously entertaining, is what the series has always strived for. But it’s only now that Mr. Lin’s confidence and execution have caught up with his ambitions. Looks like sixth time’s a charm.

★★★

TITLE: “Fast & Furious 6”

CREDITS: Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan

RATING: PG-13 for violence, language

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS