"Fast & Furious 6" is a fun summer thrill ride as long as director Justin Lin keeps the pedal to the metal in the action scenes. It's when he moves over to the slow lane to deal with relationships that the movie hits some big potholes.
No film franchise has gone through as big a transformation. It started a dozen years ago with "The Fast and the Furious," the story of an undercover cop infiltrating the Los Angeles street-racer world to stop a hijacking ring. These days, the team of fast-driving criminals -- paced by the gruff Toretto (Vin Diesel) and ex-cop Brian (Paul Walker) -- fight international terrorists.
This time, it's a mastermind named Shaw (Luke Evans) who has put together his own fast-driving crew to steal major weapons parts across Europe and Asia. When he proves too elusive for Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the lawman gets Toretto to round up the gang for another ride. He brings a little incentive. Toretto's true love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was supposed to have died in "Fast & Furious" -- the fourth edition in 2009 -- is alive.
It's that emotional element that puts the brakes on "F&F6." Diesel doesn't have the acting gears to make that part of the story seem real. He maintains the same blank expression whether he's expressing his love or changing a spark plug. The plot device that brings Letty back into the picture handcuffs Rodriguez from doing much emotionally. And their dialogue is so cheesy, the production probably had to deal with a mouse infestation.
Toretto and Letty are the least interesting characters in the movie. The tech-savvy Tej, as played by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, and the penny-pinching millionaire, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), are so colorfully and fully formed they could easily star in their own fast car franchise.
Talking about acting with these movies is like focusing on the cup holders in a Lamborghini. The strength of the franchise has always been the need for speed. Whether it's a break-neck race through the crowded streets of London or a showdown between a car and a tank, this is when the movie explodes with extreme stunts.
"F&F6" is the kind of movie where logic should be left in park. The action scenes are so big and over the top that, at times, they are laughable, such as a high-flying save by Toretto between two interstate bridges. And the final confrontation, which includes numerous cars dangling from a cargo plane, only works if the runway is 137 miles long.
The scenes are absurd, but this franchise left reality in the dust five films ago. If you want fast cars that stick to the laws of physics, there's a televised race almost every weekend.
Whether it's the exaggerated action scenes or the way this franchise has morphed into an international thriller, the movies remain popular. Fans of the franchise need not worry about these drivers coming to the end of their road. There will be a seventh installment of this high-octane series.
MOVIE REVIEW"Fast & Furious 6," rated PG-13 for action scenes, adult situations. Stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson. Directed by Justin Lin. Running time: 130 minutes. Grade: B- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.