Engine Notes on Camp*

Indy Datta reviews Fast & Furious 6

A Ford Escort, you guys? Seriously?
A Ford Escort, you guys? Seriously?

The Fast and the Furious, the flaccid 2001 Point Break ripoff directed, sort of,  by Rob Cohen (with hot rod street racing taking the place of surfing in the Bigelow film; and why don’t I know of more movies that just copy Point Break but with a different minority sport? Where is the Point Break of Ultimate Frisbee, or  LARPing? You can have those for free, Hollywood, you’re welcome) was mainly notable for gravely miscalculating the magnitude of Paul Walker’s screen charisma. About the only thing to be said for it was that it handily bettered Dominic Sena’s flashier, pricier petrolhead actioner of the previous year,  Gone in 60 Seconds (the honey-toned Bruckheimer A-pic to TF&TF’s scrappy B), which could not even be saved by the inclusion of Vinnie Jones playing a man called “Sphinx”.

Like most people who don’t subscribe to Max Power magazine, I was only vaguely aware that the 2001 film had generated a series of sequels, the first of which was directed by John Singleton, but which for a while didn’t even feature the cavernous vocal stylings and world-leading undershirt collection of Vin Diesel, the closest thing the series had to a bankable star. But under the radar, throughout the latter part of the decade, the franchise had been going, commercially, from strength to strength under the directorial stewardship of Justin Lin, who had effectively completely rebooted it with 2006’s Tokyo Drift. When 2011’s Fast Five (or whatever it’s called in your jurisdiction, or on the cover of your DVD) was a planet-stomping box office hit, it wasn’t that it had come out of nowhere, it was just that I hadn’t been paying attention.

I’m paying attention now, and not just because I’m interested in how The Fast and the Furious became a billion-dollar franchise (in the process launching Lin into write-your-own ticket territory), but also because Fast Five was a hoot, an exuberantly disposable team caper with a slew of preposterously entertaining action set pieces and a charismatic cast (including Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and the frighteningly/comically enormous The Rock, deployed in numerous entertainingly macho grunt-offs with the inaptly named Diesel, who returned to the series in the definite-article-eschewing Fast & Furious, the follow-up to Tokyo Drift, to which it, like its successors, was a prequel), like Ocean’s Eleven with a nitrous tank. I can’t have been the only person anticipating the next film in the series, wanting to know if it would deliver.

Fast & Furious 6 (or whatever it’s called in your jurisdiction, or on your billboards) certainly does deliver (I can imagine people who wouldn’t enjoy at least some of it, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with them), but in this its strength is indistinguishable from its major weakness – this is a deeply self-conscious film, and its sense of its obligation to deliver, and to one-up its predecessor is frequently in danger of eclipsing its simple pleasures. If Fast Five was a film that wanted you to have fun, its sequel is a film that wants you to know that it wants you to have fun,  and preferably more fun than ever before. The underdog franchise has become a studio tentpole, and along the way has succumbed to gigantism. If the last film had  a car chase in which a bank vault is dragged by muscle cars through the streets of Rio at white knuckle speed, this one has to have a sequence in which a gigantic military transport plane is blown to smithereens, and then, after having a fistfight in the exploding plane,  Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto  smashes through its nose cone in a car that’s ON FIRE. Annoyingly, as it’s got bigger, the staging of the action has got more slapdash as well – Lin’s style privileges pace and energy over spatial continuity, which is par for the course in modern action film making, and I don’t mind that (although less cutting and more driving would be nice, particularly in one night time race through central London), but I did mind, in the climax, frequently not having a clue if something supposedly important to the sequence had happened or not.

But equally, the film’s tone of acute self-consciousness, more than verging on camp, does a lot to leaven elements that would otherwise be merely comically rudimentary: you can, if you choose, laugh with the plot (there’s a McGuffin, a twist and a damsel in distress, none of which matter at all) and the  dialogue rather than at them. And more than that, the film’s self-consciousness arguably provokes some intriguing thoughts on its own nature. At one point, Toretto’s team – a multiracial crew who epitomise old fashioned notions of fellowship (and small c conservative notions of family), and whose cars (their weapons and their avatars) eschew high-tech in favour of old fashioned analogue craftsmanship  – note that their antagonists in the film, led by Luke Evans’s psychopathically rational half-crime-lord-half-management-consultant, are like an evil version of them: each one of them has an equivalent on the other side. The Fast and Furious franchise is its own evil twin – it repackages the subculture at its heart for the mainstream, and inevitably sells it out for its own ends, when there’s big money on the table, but at least there’s still a little bit of its heart left that feels bad about it.

*Yeah, I went there.

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3 thoughts on “Engine Notes on Camp*

  1. I should start with the fourth one. Leave Tokyo Drift til last; it’s easy to forget it’s set later, and that gets confusing.

  2. I have unashamedly loved every single f&F movie, including Drift and I’m rather pleased to see others cottoning on to the simple joy of a movie that’s all about car chases but has some other shit thrown in too. Personally I thought 5 was the silliest of the bunch, but I was so pleased to see VD back and with the Rock too that I didn’t mind at all. I’m stupidly excited to see 6 and I think the Point Break comparison unfair.

    F&F número uno on release was the freshest a blast of pure unadulterated car chase joy. Not liking it, well I think it suggests a humbug tendency to be ashamed of.

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