Movie review: “Fast & Furious 6” puts unlikely franchise on cruise control

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From the May 23, 2013 edition

It’s been more than a decade since “The Fast & the Furious” hit theaters. At the time, it was shrewdly cashing in on a growing interest in illegal street racing and car customization. Now it’s a summer tent pole. Who woulda thunk it?

My grandpa taught me to drive, so my driving style is neither fast, nor particularly furious, but it seems to me the street-racing fad seems to have faded in pop culture. Yet this series cruises on, and it’s not shifted down to straight-to-video. It’s gotten bigger.

With its last installment, “Fast Five,” the series got a nitrous boost. It piled on cast members and went all “Ocean’s Eleven” with the wise-cracking and an elaborate heist. And I’m not ashamed to admit, I thought it was a blast and was looking forward to more summer thrills. What I got was a rumbling headache.

After pulling off the big heist of “Fast Five,” Dominic (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and their crew have retired when special agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) recruits them for a job.

Yes, Hobbs is the same agent who was chasing them in the last film, which, as you may remember, introduced the possibility that Dominic’s former flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) may not be dead after all. Oh, intrigue!

“Fast 6” is clearly trying to be the faster-er and most furious-est movie yet, raising the stakes to a Bond leftover plot involving international terror.

When director Justin Lin — on his fourth “Fast” movie — sticks with what the series does best, his engine hums. The car chases and stunts are the kind of spectacle you paid to see, and the comedic banter of Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris in supporting roles make you wish for a spinoff.

But things start to wobble as the soap opera plot twists pile up. And I’m way OK with stretching plausibility in your action sequences — there is a stunt here that is so ludicrous you’ll roll your eyes and applaud at the same time.

But the plot starts to blur and the action sequences go full Michael Bay ADD. Fans will eat it up, but I’m getting off at this stop. Don’t worry. “Fast 7” is due out next summer.