Though it's constantly insinuated and alluded to, death comes to no one in the world of Fast & Furious—that is, unless someone is heedlessly evil or, well, European. Serious injuries are shrugged off, as the innumerable neck braces and casts would put a damper on the awesomeness at hand. Characters are constantly reincarnated and reintroduced with only a modicum of fanfare and even less logic, and to a degree, this is the entire point. Beginning with the mildly entertaining The Fast and the Furious in 2001, the series has become the eminent example of simple-as-stupid action filmmaking, even as the movies themselves have become incrementally less rousing. That the series tries absolutely nothing new is both its perceived chief asset and its increasingly burdensome deadweight.
So, when Fast & Furious 6 begins with DSS muscle Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) tracking down off-the-grid thief Dom Torello (Vin Diesel) to inform him that his thought-deceased ladylove, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), is alive, in trouble, and suffering from amnesia, it really doesn't come as a surprise. Neither does a lick of the narrative's ensuing gambit, which brings Torello and BFF brother-in-law, Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), together with their team, overseen by Hobbs and his new partner, Riley (Gina Carano), to take on Shaw (Luke Evans), an international criminal genius who's recruited Letty as part of his team to steal a super-secret something-or-other.
Story has never been substantial to this franchise, its reputation having been built on the caliber of the gear (the Charger!) and the heedless pulse of the action sequences. Nevertheless, director Justin Lin, responsible for all but the first two installments, overruns his film(s) with talky stand-offs, forced comedic repartee, and overtly sentimental familial drama, none of which makes use of the essential narrative freedom that the series has, for better or worse, earned at this point. The result is narrative bloat caused by unconvincing dramatic filler that softens the miniscule thrill of what the films have always done right. Lin strives to approximate something like Ocean's Eleven for petrosexuals, but testosterone outweighs wit and cleverness at every turn in Chris Morgan's starched script. By ensuring that tongue is incapable of locating cheek, the filmmakers exude a distinct ignorance, as they're not only apparently unaware of how dumb the material is, but also have no sense of how to have full-tilt fun with said stupidity.
To be fair, Lin handles the torqued-up action with admirable energy and competence. Shaw's introductory chase through London, and the excellent climactic set piece on a massive military plane are high-water marks for the series, but these sequences are powered by technical oomph over clarity or tension. Still, they certainly bring out more inventiveness in Lin than the drama, which feels uncertain and strained in its solid placement now as a saga. The cast is outmatched by the heft of the story at this point, and further burdened by the forced seriousness of the film's most disposable elements. Johnson, the best of the film's leads, feels restrained and uninterested; Sung Kang mainly fills out the background, saddled with Han's dull romance with Gisele (Gal Gadot); and Evans brings scant menace to a villain that means to rival an entire team of heroes.
Walker's Brian, easily the series's dullest facet, is thankfully kept to second chair as a new poppa, ceding the floor to Diesel and Rodriguez. The actors have chemistry, even if the script's plodding back and forths don't really give them much to chew on other than a rather blatant rip of Mel Gibson and Rene Russo's scar-off from Lethal Weapon 3. Still, they bring genuine heat to a film that too often cools out and amounts to little more than a few miles added onto a perpetual victory lap. To call the film stupid would be misleading, as it's built on technical intellect, from the stunts to the visual effects to the sound team. No, Fast & Furious 6 is far more smug than stupid, luxuriating in its cynicism and insubstantiality. Yet, riding into theaters with confidence, as its sequel is already well into pre-production, the film bears a certain cowardice, as its makers refuse to even feign wisdom or creativity for fear of an (unlikely) box-office dip, far preferring the monotony of the series's narrative engine loudly idling.