The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 31, 2013

Benji Tunnell: Fun missing from latest 'Fast and Furious'

By Benji Tunnell
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I will admit to, up until recently, having remained relatively indifferent to the world of "The Fast and the Furious." As with NASCAR and Oscar Pistorius, watching people go really fast doesn't interest me in the least, until they get to the point of the crash.

My perception changed a bit a couple years ago when I bought a ticket to "Fast 5," as the kids like to call it. What I had already written off as mindless and pointless turned out to be just that, but in a highly entertaining way.

I left the theater surprised at how much I truly enjoyed the film. So I actually found myself looking forward to the latest installment, hoping to have as much fun.

To this film, a plot -- at least in how most would understand it -- is wholly unnecessary and just complicates the director's desire to get from action scene A to action scene B as quickly as possible.

Likewise, the characters are basically caricatures; broadly drawn stereotypes and generalities -- so much so that, when one of the key characters is killed in the film, I felt so much emotional detachment from the person on screen that my sympathies didn't go to the character or the friends and fellow drivers left behind, but to the poor maintenance guy who was going to have to scrape the carcass off of the pavement.

This time around, Vin Diesel returns as dumb bald guy Dom. He finds out that former lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) isn't dead, but is working alongside some bad guy who is trying to steal something that may or may not lead to some catastrophic event.

Dwayne Johnson returns as overly muscular cop Hobbs, recruiting Dom and his team to do the police work that his force apparently can't be bothered with. So Dom gathers dumb blonde guy Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), dumb cheap guy Roman (Tyrese Gibson), not as dumb but still annoying computer guy Tej (Ludacris) and some other guy to track down Shaw (Luke Evans). Throw in MMA fighter Gina Carano as Agent Riley and you get the all-star team of bad actors.

Aside from Evans and occasional moments by Johnson, every single person on screen is wholly lacking in both charisma and acting skills. Sure, Diesel tries to hide his inadequacies with a marble-mouthed delivery of all his lines, but it just doesn't help at all.

The whole plot is absolutely asinine and falls apart immediately under even the most indifferent examination. To explain away Letty's resurrection from the presumed dead, the screenwriters trot out the old amnesia trope -- the crutch that has fueled daytime television for decades.

The only way to justify the crew's participation in the film is to hook them up with an indifferent police task force, then tie it to full pardons so that they can return to the United States, even though the intro to the film shows that each is living a pretty sweet life in some tropical paradise and that there would be little to no motivation to ever want to return.

And the only way to keep the film going is for the ineptness of the aforementioned task force to allow Shaw to escape multiple times, including once when Hobbs had him trained in his sights and a mere pull of the trigger would have rendered the rest of the film moot.

But I didn't buy a ticket for the plot intricacies, the believable dialogue or the riotous jokes (all of which were completely lacking). There are lots of car chases and lots of fights. Unfortunately, most aren't handled with the same skill that made the previous film so much fun.

The action is ramped up to absurd levels, including a high-speed chase with a tank and another where the cars race an airplane on the world's longest runway as it tries to take off (over what seems like a 45-minute time frame). The stupidity of so much of it stripped away the entertaining moments that redeemed the last movie, leaving a mess of crashed cars, bodies and incomprehensible action.

That's not to say there anything in the movie to like. Though some of the set pieces go far too over the top, others are skillfully executed, but not enough to make up for the remainder.

Whereas the last movie offered mindlessness in bulk quantities, it at least counterbalanced with enough believability (barely) to allow the viewer to go with it. This time around, all semblance of reality is stripped away, leaving the remainder on the screen. Unfortunately, that remainder is a barely watchable film.

Whereas the last film was incredibly dumb but fun, this movie was just incredibly dumb. I'll hold out hope that the already announced "Fast 7" will bring back some of that fun.