Each week in The Moviegoer, Nick Olson examines new and upcoming films.
Editor’s Note: If you’re worried about spoilers then this probably isn’t the conversation you’re looking for.
A movie like Fast and Furious 6 deserves more than a review. It deserves a 3500 word email conversation. And I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather have that discussion with than my good buddy Chris Gaumer, who is a professor of creative writing, a driver of a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, and, most importantly, the kind of person who understands how cars can constitute a philosophy of human existence.
Plus, we’ve had email exchanges about many things, including creating scenes with dialogue for an I-Robot/Independence Day mash-up sequel that involves, among other pivotal moments, Will Smith punching out a Tobisha Laptop gone rogue, declaring “Welcome to earth!” while Jeff Goldblum stares incredulously.
Chris saw the movie before I did, and his only message to me (from one not-a-smart-phone to another) was to say that it was . . . “indescribable.” After seeing the movie for myself, I can say that’s an apt summation.
Here’s our attempt to describe what we saw, anyway.
Christopher J. Gaumer: I first want to say that my wife thinks we’re old men.
When I told her our plan to watch Fast & Furious 6 and then email back and forth about it (with a hilarious understanding of irony), she was like, “Why aren’t you live-tweeting? What are you, old men?” I proceeded to tell her we couldn’t match our schedules to see it at the same time and so we had no choice. Then she said something about how I don’t have a smart phone anyway. Further proof of her original point.
But this movie did make me feel old, and trust me, that wasn’t a premeditated subtext to accompany this archaic exchange of emails. I saw the first F&F movie in 2001, in the theater. I was a junior in high school and I lived in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. I really loved the film. I mean, movie. I didn’t own a Mitsubishi Eclipse or a Honda Civic hatchback, but I wished I did. I owned a 1993 Ford Explorer, so I could beat those four cylinder lightweights in a steady race, but man, I really wanted something I could reasonably screw a fat muffler on. Needless to say, I raced around Perkasie with all of the gusto my white, geared-for-towing four-by-four could muster. In 2002, I was pulled over on Highway 81 going 104 miles an hour. No joke. I wish I could have live-tweeted the court-ordered reckless driving school that followed. My classmates were F&F’s target audience. What are you in here for, yo? How fast you go? Oh yeah? Got that [junk] tinted out, too? Yeah, man? Well I tinted mine to the legal limit!
Anyway, let’s talk about this film. I haven’t seen a single of the post 2001 sequels, so I really appreciated that the title sequence was the equivalent of a “last week, on the Fast and the Furious…” preface. The Fast and the Furious: it even sounds like a soap opera.
Was it just me or did Vin Diesel put on weight? Not like, normal weight, but old man weight. I felt like his chin was sagging and he didn’t have a choice. BTW – I’m really sorry that age is a reoccurring theme here, but I’m 29 and facing the firing squad in July. It must be leaking through.
8 minutes in: Bikini sightings – 150-300, side boob – 1. Classic PG-13.
Nick Olson: Well, the secret’s out. People now know that this isn’t going to be a Really Serious Consideration Of The Film.
No matter, because I need to get honest with you for a moment.
A couple of things happened on my way home from the theater that are, I think, worth mentioning. First, you need to know that when I was navigating the Cineplex parking lot to head home, I came to a stop sign with a suped-up Cadillac Escalade coming from my left (do the kids still say “suped-up”? I don’t think they do). It was one of those situations where it was fairly obvious that the oncoming vehicle not only had the right-of-way without a stop sign, but also was close enough that I had no business pulling out in front of the vehicle. But, after Fast and Furious 6, the right of way, the distance between us, the fact that I should wait for the SUV to pass–all of it was utterly questionable in my eyes. And so I did what Dom (Vin Diesel) would do.
Or so I thought. But after reading your wife’s thoughts on our plan to exchange emails, I realize that I did what Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) would do. Brian now knows what it’s like to live life in the fast lane with a young child back home. So, in my wife’s 2003 Honda Civic with my two year old’s empty car seat strapped in behind me, I got inspired and sped away before Jeep Guy had a chance to flip me off.
But that’s not all.
When I got on the highway, the Ludacris verse from the 2004 classic, “Yeah!”, came on the radio. And next to having NOS in the Civic to give me a boost, I don’t know of anything else being as effective at taking me to another level.
All of this is a long way of saying: your wife’s a prophet.
CG: She calls it like she sees it. Or smells it. I’m growing out a summer beard right now and I was telling her how great it looked. She shrugged. I said, “What? You don’t like it?” (I thought it looked very Paul Walker-ish) She replied that it looked okay but she hated kissing me with a beard in the summer because it just constantly smells like a sweaty knee crease. So guess what?
NO: Bye-bye beard?
CG: Gotta get my kisses. Anyway, sorry for the side note.
NO: We have much in common, my friend. I, too, love Paul Walker’s scruff. I, too, have yet to purchase a smart phone; this is the first Fast and Furious I’ve seen since the 2001 original in a theater in Central Pennsylvania. And while I’ve not been pulled over going 104mph, I did flip end-over-end over a highway median in my black Jeep Grand Cherokee and came away without any bruises or broken bones. Instead, I walked away from the accident like Dom and company would walk away from a blaze of glory. And like Dom and Rodriguez, I have the scar to prove it.
So while your wife’s right about us late 20-somethings being past our prime for this, what she underestimates is that our Fast and Furious background stories coalesce in a way that makes one thing even more clear than how out of touch Vin Diesel’s chin, you, and I all are: we have a code, and that code is family.
You’re absolutely on target with the bikini and side-boob count (I was keeping track because I thought about inserting a joke about Christian film reviewing that also included the number of swears, but didn’t include the number of damaged vehicles and unaccounted-for-but-not-that-serious human casualties), but something else happens just a couple of minutes before too much sexually charged PG13 can take over the film. As I mentioned above, we find out that Brian O’Connor is a father. This means, says Dom, that Brian has to give up his old life. Everything changes now. Make no mistake, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as Vin Diesel giving life advice.
So his old life is over unless, of course, Uncle Dom’s long-dead lover inexplicably comes back as the Bad Guy’s assailant. In that case, one family code trumps all others.
Even Brian’s wife supportively recognizes the truth of which family code trumps another in the case of competing family codes. Bottom line: This is first and foremost a family film. One that you can feel good about taking your kids to for life lessons from Vin. And that’s something old men can get behind.
CG: Speaking of role models, the first time we see Dwayne Johnson, “The Rock,” he’s like a billboard for Under Armour. I knew this film would make me feel cheap and violated, but so quickly? I wonder if I noticed these sort of things at age 17, or did I just like being violated? Things get weird two minutes in.
NO: Honestly, the first note I made about Dwayne Johnson was “Rock wearing Under Armour.” Here’s what everyone needs to know about Under Armour Rock in Fast 6 (I can’t even remember the name of the person he’s allegedly playing, so let’s just agree to call him Under Armour Rock, ok?)–there’s a running Avengers joke in which his character is referred to, at different times during the film, as Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. I don’t think he was ever referred to as Iron Man, but that’s because his quips were an Under Armour Rock version of Tony Stark’s slick humor. So, yes, “if you wanna catch wolves, you need wolves,” and, believe me, the last thing that Under Armour Rock wants to be doing when he’s busy saving the world is to ask Dom’s rag-tag gang of criminals to help him out. To Under Armour Rock, that’s “like selling girl scout cookies.”
The point is, Under Armour Rock is as powerful and eloquent as The Avengers combined. Which is to say that Under Armour Rock’s torso-and-arms is its own character in this movie.
And rest assured that a lesser movie would have called it a finale and ended 25 minutes in when Under Armour Rock leaps from the second story of a car garage onto a speeding vehicle in the first floor.
CG: Yes, Under Armour Rock it is. Brilliant. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s revisit the family film thing. Because this is a family film! I especially appreciated the prayer at the very end. “Dear God, thanks for all of the choices we make because that’s all we have.” I think that’s how it went. If not, I think it’s my choice to take it out of context.
Also, it’s encouraging to know that you haven’t seen F&F 2-5 either. I thought I might be out of my league here, so before I went to the theater I actually Googled, “do I need to have seen Fast and Furious 1-5 to see Fast and Furious 6?” The results were surprisingly in favor of “yes, you won’t get it otherwise.” The F&F fan base is intensely loyal and on guard about people who don’t appreciate simple axioms, like, “That ain’t a plane; that’s a planet!” This was one of my top three quotes from the film.
I offer this tribute for how JA will be remembered:
NO: Love it! It was only a matter of time before Ja Rule would be replaced by Ludacris, and this movie pretty much provides an explicit explanation as to why. See, only Ludacris would know that the kind of weaponry the crew is working with is made of the kind of material that supports bridges. Ja would be as beholden to Luda’s specialized knowledge as Tyrese Gibson is in that particular scene. So it’s no shame, really.
I think the concluding prayer went like this: “Dear God, thanks for all the choices we’ve made because that’s what makes us who we are.” So, yes, your wording of it is exactly right, and you should be thankful for your choice to take it out of context. Because this is who you are. By the way, isn’t this just the sort of prayer–a mantra, really–that holds families together?
I only remember that part of the concluding prayer because the movie is so resolutely philosophical. A couple of brief examples: “show me how you drive, and I’ll show you who you are” and, before a very sad, surprising death, one character tells a loved one to be careful, and she responds, “this is who we are!” Or, my personal favorite, when speaking with wonder about a car breaking his fall, Dom meditates, “Some things you just have to take on faith.”
I mean, Chris, if I’m writing this review for certain outlets in certain circles, I’m definitely including, in part of my description, “heavy faith themes.”
CG: Changing the subject a bit here, but as a teacher, it’s my prerogative to use today’s art to inspire tomorrow’s art. All aspiring writers, take note: This film opened on what appeared to be an intense race in back-country Spain (between Diesel and Walker) but it turned out to just be the camera watching them drive casually home at 100MPH+. I think this is a good example of the F&F1 motto in action: “We live our lives a quarter mile at a time.” If I was reviewing this film for a creative writing workshop, I would comment to the class, “This opening is great employment of ‘show; don’t tell.’” If F&F6 has taught us anything, it’s that you have to live your mottos out or else be killed when you fall out of a plane that has yet to leave the 90 mile long runway. I mean, how long was that runway?
NO: The 90-mile runway was quite a sight to see, but by that point, after we’d been treated to a film filled with perpetual finales, I was prepared for anything, particularly after Walker had already angled his high-speeding car at just the right position to have an oncoming median pole knock off of his car a small explosive device the size of a chip. Or after Vin pulled a bullet out of his own skin. Or after seeing a scene that involved…well, it’s worth putting it in Luda terms: “they got a tank!”
With “highly coordinated drivers” involved in “vehicular warfare,” it’s clear from the outset that anything’s possible. And Fast 6 goes into overdrive making good on that promise–including airport runways that seem to work like the infinite staircases in Inception.
CG: You really sound like a film reviewer with that line. I’m entranced. Also, I love the quotes you chose, but I have to disagree with you on one point you made earlier. Despite several horrific falls, I don’t think any major characters died in this film. Here’s why. In this film, Michelle Rodriquez was thought dead but turned out to be alive. This reminds me of the T.V. show LOST, a show which consistently put into question the laws of physics, human physiology and probably phys-ed. It’s also a show in which Michelle Rodriquez stars. And I’m willing to bet that the resurrection of Rodriquez is a tip of the cap to LOST. More resurrections to come in F&F7; I’ll bet a pink slip on it.
Spoiler alert: The clever thing with F&F6 is, Rodriquez has amnesia! I love amnesia! As a plot device, amnesia is so easy (like an orphan protagonist) but this writer (Chris Morgan) just took it on. No hesitation. It was ambitious in the sense that, in retrospect, he didn’t try to make it believable at all. I wonder if the marketing and promotion team at F&F6 sent out questionnaires to their target audience down at the local Los Angeles reckless driving school.
Here is my favorite amnesia related quote: “I may not remember anything, but I do know one thing. Nobody makes me do anything I don’t want.”
NO: That’s a fantastic Rodriguez amnesia quote, but I think my favorite comes near the end when Vin asks her if dinner around the table sparks any memories and she says, “None of this is familiar . . . but it feels like home.” Well, Chris, that’s because nothing fills the familiarity gap for “home” quite like a driveway full of fast cars and a table full of Coronas.
CG: I’m thrilled you brought up the Coronas because this was totally a highlight moment for me. Diesel and company blow up 50 to 100 cars, beat up a bunch of steroid juiced men and women, and destroy a planet-sized plane. Then, we cut to a modest BBQ where everyone is drinking Corona! There were at least fourteen bottles of Corona products on the picnic table, not to mention several Corona Light. What juxtaposition!
NO: Can we cut (writer) Chris Morgan some slack here? There’s no doubt he expended a lot of creative energy concocting not only the “let’s have Walker check himself into prison” bit, but the conversational setup for sequences of its ilk. It usually goes something like this: The team meets up after a near death encounter to figure out their next move, they each make an interesting entrance to wherever they’re meeting, until last–usually mysteriously as if out of thin air–Vin appears, then, each less-famous member of the team pieces together a clue as to what the Bad Guy they’re trying to catch is going to do next, and what their next move should be in response. Walker chimes in near the end of these exchanges with the kind of revelation that suggests he’s been one step ahead of everyone else the entire time that they’re piecing together the clues. Then Vin cleans up with a followup revelation. Like, how does Walker know that Guy Who Will Lead Them To Bad Guy is in an LA prison? Well, Vin tells us, that’s because Walker put him there.
And just to make sure we realize the stakes here–somehow, Morgan has written Walker’s having to go to prison in order to get the information he needs in such a way that he could end up staying in prison for the rest of his life. Under Armour Rock can do a lot of things–he can handshake a smart-mouthed security cop into oblivion–but there’s a chance that even he can’t bail Walker out of prison if this plan goes sour.
And as on top of things as Walker, Vin, and Under Armour Rock are, then, it’s a genuine shocker that by the fourth or fifth time they’ve been told that Bad Guy knows their every move, they hadn’t yet figured out that that’s because Bad Guy has a spy among them. Which, to be clear, is different than saying that it was genuinely shocking to find out that this particular team member was a spy.
CG: Nick, didn’t you check your brain at the counter? I was told I needed to leave mine with the popcorn lady, who was also the ticket lady at today’s 2:40 showing of F&F6. As another side note, my theater was almost entirely empty except for a couple who looked to be in their mid-sixties. I really wish I could have overheard their decision to see the film. Did they have a real debate that ended in a fight where they just agreed to see something no one liked? Or have they had enough of “real-life” and would rather just slunk into a chair and enjoy an action movie which introduces a really racist British guy? That was such a weird part of the movie for me.
NO: We agree on the weirdest moment. And, of course, you’re right about the “deaths” in this film, and they, in combination with the inevitable, post-credit Jason Stratham cameo, have me wondering: what’s the ceiling on the Fast Franchise? Where does this thing end? Does it get to 9 before Star Wars does? Can it outlast Saw and Paranormal Activity? Only time will tell. But let’s not kid ourselves: not only is Fast redefining what it means to be a franchise–switching from car racing to heisting in midair, completing a hexalogy well on its way to an ennealogy–but Bruce Willis and Soldier Boy are now significant possibilities for future sequels.
CG: I think this series has at least three more films. They really expanded their potential audience with this film. I mean, did you notice all of the denim Paul Walker was wearing? He is the proverbial olive branch hipsters have been waiting for–the final piece of this film’s diversity puzzle. When Paul Walker’s girl shows up after the plane blows up, she’s also wearing denim! This is just the beginning. Wait till they trick out a single speed bike in 2014!
NO: One of my notes was that nobody wears single pocket square denim button up shirts like Paul Walker. That’s a fact.
CG: You take great notes. I’ve always wanted to tell you. Now let me change the subject. What did that woman mean when she yelled out before the Diesel-Rodriquez street race, to no one in particular: “We’re used to getting what we want – this is London!” What has London ever wanted? A male heir?
NO: I honestly have no idea what that meant. Maybe one of our British readers can shed some light on this. But I will say that the woman who yelled it looked like someone who was trying to look like Victoria Beckham. That may or may not provide some insight about London or being used to getting what you want.
Quick note about my experience of seeing this with true F&F devotees. It was going well until the scene when Rodriguez gets thrown into midair to what looks almost certainly to be her second death. That is, until Vin comes up with the plan to run his topless car at full speed into a median so as to propel himself into midair, catch Rodriguez in midair, and then have the force of his jump propel them both into the landing that, as I mentioned earlier, rewarded Vin’s faith.
At this point, the one moment I was afraid of happened: I laughed at my showing when a roomful of other moviegoers were silent. And it was one of those really noticeable you’re-the-only-one-laughing moments. I slouched into my seat, shamed by the fact that I’d underestimated how seriously rewarding the moment was.
CG: Nick, this brings us back to where we started. We went to see a movie just to write ironically about it. It’s not honorable. It’s shameful. It’s a demonstration of how rude and insensitive we’ve become in our relative old age. In reality, we should have stopped taking notes and just watched the film without laughing. Maybe then we could have learned something important to share with your readers. As things stand, we are just a couple of middle class phonies in over our heads.
What do you do when the maintenance cameras are down, Nick? Do you steal computer chips? Do you trick amnesia victims into driving cars really fast? Do you hire snipers to point guns at people who don’t expect it? I hope not. Vin Diesel and company put family first. So should we. It’s gut check time. If a million lives were at stake, would you risk them all to save the women you and your best friend are currently having sex with? The answer is in your heart, which is, apparently, found in bed.
Wow. I almost brought that around to something. Sorry.
NO: No apology necessary–it was a valiant effort at forcing this movie and conversation to have “redeeming value.” In reality, we needed more backup plans than simply A. Take the movie and conversation seriously or B. See the movie for laughs then banter about it without regard for anyone or anything. To quote Ludacris one final time: We needed “more alphabets.”
But I suspect we will be a little bit wiser when, at our pace of seeing Fast and Furious films, we decide to reconvene for Fast 12 in our late 30’s. Until then, Chris, we do have a rather simple choice.
Ride or die.