By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A funny thing happened on the way to the film forum…

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After four sub-par outings in a row, this disreputable, vroom-vroom franchise launched in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious seemed permanently stuck in neutral;  that is, its commercial success was obvious, but so was its cinematic cluelessness.

Fast & Furious seemed gassed & curious.

Then came the fifth installment, Fast Five, and it was the immediate pick of the litter –- not a world beater, not an award winner, not a masterpiece, but a well-made, exhilarating, action thriller, sort of a road rage rodeo that traded in outrageous vehicular mayhem, with car after car doing things that cars are not really supposed to do.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

Fast & Furious 6, which more or less concludes the franchise’s second trilogy, pretty much matches the impact, appeal, and quality of its immediate predecessor. And it sports a playful and not inappropriate sense of humor.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return as brothers-in-law Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner, living in moneyed and pleasant if unexciting retirement when their old adversary, a federal agent played by the ubiquitous Dwayne Johnson, offers them a deal they can’t refuse.

They and the other members of the old anti-heroic gang of Boyz Under the Hood, outlaws currently banned from the US, will get full pardons if they help stop formidable villain Luke Evans’ terrorist plans to build a dirty bomb capable of wreaking worldwide havoc.

Director Justin Lin, in his fourth F & F go-round, once again celebrates teamwork in Chris Morgan’s screenplay, and isn’t above letting characters from earlier episodes come back from the dead (enough said).

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The series will miss Lin mightily if it continues and he does not, because he has at this point really found his rhythm.

As in the previous installment, the excess, the preposterousness, the lack of subtlety and depth -– all trademarks of the series, for better or for worse –- add to the escapist pleasure rather than detract from it, as they did in the first four outings.

And we have come to accept the car-toonish indestructibility of both vehicles and people as par for the fast, furious course.

You don’t go to an F & F flick for the acting, to be sure, but the principal cast members -– including Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang, Jordana Brewster, and Tyrese Gibson (who is especially funny this trip) — have at least grown into their second-skin roles.

Don’t expect that new-car smell from a childish but stylish sequel that treats driving and destruction of property as if they were the ultimate spectator sports, but franchise fans should feel rewarded by an entry that doesn’t drive very far off the formulaic road of energetic set pieces, outlandish stunts, and bouncy banter.

So we’ll tinker under the hood of 2½ stars out of 4 for Fast & Furious 6, a well-crafted actioner that thrives in sixth gear of a franchise that will undoubtedly find itself next year perhaps not in seventh heaven but almost certainly in seventh gear.


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