American Muscle 

The Fast & Furious franchise takes another joyous leap into the absurd.

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel

It is late at night. The streets of the metropolis are calm and dim. But wait — what are those lights up ahead? Is that a DJ booth? Is someone throwing a party in the middle of the street? And do you hear that ... rumbling?

In the world of the Fast & Furious films, such sights and sounds mean only one thing: another Mecum-auto-auction-on-magic-mushrooms montage! For dumb-movie connoisseurs, these overheated faux-ethnographic passages — which mix footage of gearheads showing off their custom cars with PG-13-approved flashes of go-go girls from the 24th-and-a-half century strutting their stuff — now inspire the same irrational exuberance as watching James Bond turn to the camera, and, in one swift motion, draw his weapon and fire.

Like the 007 dossier, the Fast & Furious franchise has earned plenty of good will; its reputation for shameless, gravity-defying automotive mayhem is unparalleled. And although Fast & Furious 6 is not as gratifyingly gonzo as 2011's near-great Fast 5, it still provides enough laughs and thrills to satisfy its expanding fan base.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return as Dom Toretto and Brian O'Connor, former nemeses who have settled into comfortable lives after the successful bank robbery that concluded Fast 5. But after a visit by their former nemesis, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Dom and O'Connor start their engines once more to help take down a wicked criminal street racer intent on using high-tech computer gear for vague, nefarious purposes. In addition, Hobbs offers Dom the chance to reconnect with his former girlfriend Netty (Michele Rodriguez), who was presumed dead in 2009's Fast & Furious. But why am I explaining these plot details as if they matter?

In the spirit of F.T. Marinetti's 1909 Futurist manifesto, the Fast & Furious films give themselves "utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the deep wells of the Absurd!" Director Justin Lin's third hymn to the men at the wheel hurls a lot of lances across the earth along the way. His action sequences answer crucial questions like, "How many times can a human being jump from one moving vehicle to another without suffering a bruise or breaking a bone before audiences cry foul?" (Answer: at least five.) And "How many different kinds of combat can happen simultaneously during a film's climax?" (Answer: at least four.)

Pleasant new additions to the series include Haywire's Gina Carano, who shows up as an inexpressive ass-kicker born from the rib of Steven Seagal. Unpleasant new additions include giving Tyrese Gibson all the funny lines.

Fast & Furious 6 caps a solid month for blockbusters. But even the best of these are following some irritating patterns too closely. Let's hope there are fewer films that generate tension from helpless women in trouble and English villains who seem most dangerous when they're incarcerated. Otherwise, it's going to be a long summer.

Fast and Furious 6
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