By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Director Justin Lin, born in Taiwan but raised in California, caught the attention of the public and the Asian community with “Shopping For Fangs” and “Better Luck Tomorrow,” two edgy and sometimes gritty portrayals of a countercultural, and sometimes outright-criminal, existence. He’s currently plugged into the “Fast & Furious” car-racing series, and with Fast & Furious 6, his third film in that series, he’s poised once again to go over the top commercially.
Alas, in taking the audience over the top, we see what’s on the other side of the hill, and that isn’t much. Lin might continue to show distinction in his smaller, more personal films, in which case more power to him there, but his blockbusters squander intriguing casts and exotic locales in the name of exceptionally noisy nothingness.
For those tuning in late, the “Fast & Furious” films revolve around a crew of illegal street racers who burn rubber on their way to the top of the international crime game. “6” finds them living off the fat of a big job in Rio they pulled off last time around.
Enter Luke Hobbs (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), an agent with the Diplomatic Security Service. He has a job for the crew; one that is, of course, top-secret and deadly dangerous. If they prevail, they’ll get the one thing they don’t have: Pardons from the U.S. government, which will allow them to live back in their home country.
The crew is admirably ethnically diverse, an apt reflection of today’s proudly multicultural American. Johnson is half-African, half-Samoan; Sung Kang is the son of Korean immigrants; and Vin Diesel, the leader and the heart of the gang, keeps his ethnicity a secret, although he was raised by an African-American stepfather.
Unfortunately, these striking people from across the color spectrum have two hours in which to do nothing especially interesting. The screenplay by Chris Morgan, who also penned two other installments in the series, runs on a frustrating paucity of originality. The script reads as if every conceivable inspirational-tough-guy-gotta-have-heart Hallmark saying was compressed down into an 8-bit processor from 1981 then spat out randomly into the dialogue.
As the de facto boss, Vin Diesel preserves his mystery in a distinctive manner — he swallows his own words. Sometimes all you can make out of the prefab dialogue is his baritone scraping along. This suits his image, and given the dialogue itself, might be a blessing in disguise.
The “Fast & Furious” series is designed to make the “James Bond” series obsolete, to the point of some lines in this latest film mocking Bond. The Bond movies have their weaknesses, including arch sexism and an equally arch, superior look at non-Western cultures. But they display restraint, elegance, and precision, especially when compared to the competition.
One loud, obnoxious, tone-deaf, explosion-riddled action sequence follows another. One crew member smuggles himself into the depths of the American federal prison system, gets exactly the information he wants, and smuggles himself out. Neat, clean, no questions asked, and no penalty even for breaking his handler’s nose.
At best, this whole business demonstrates the lengths director Lin must go to in order to provide for his more personal visions. At worst, it could demonstrate the decline and dissipation of another promising talent. If Lin keeps pumping out this rubbish, he might forget how to make anything else. And that would be one more triumph for the lowest common denominator. (end)
“Fast & Furious 6” opened May 24 at several theaters around Seattle. Check local listings for theaters, prices, and showtimes.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.