Impossibly, the formerly awful Fast and the Furious series at long last became good with the release of the fifth film, Fast Five, in 2011. Dumping the dead weight of the street racing tangents, the producers reinvented the franchise to create a solidly entertaining heist picture, and it paid off with surprising critical acclaim and box office success. Riding high on this triumph, we now have Fast & Furious 6, which retains its predecessor’s tone and proclivity for pure blockbuster action. Helmed by Justin Lin and written by Chris Morgan (collaborating for their fourth consecutive outing in this series), it’s an empty but entertaining showcase of fast cars and superlative stunt-work which also provides some satisfying fan service for anyone who’s been watching this series since the beginning. Fast & Furious 6 may not be as good as Fast Five, but it’s better than the rest of the films in the series, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Having made off with around $100 million following the Rio heist of the last picture, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Brian’s wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) now live in Spain trying to evade the law. They are soon tracked down by Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who agrees to pardon their entire gang if they help him stop criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). To tempt them even further, Hobbs produces photographic evidence that Dom’s thought-dead love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is not only alive, but now working for Shaw. Rounding up the old gang – including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) – Dom and Brian head to London, looking to take down Shaw before he creates a catastrophic tech bomb. Dom is determined to reunite with Letty in the process, but she’s suffering from amnesia, which complicates matters.

Whoever titles these movies deserves a slap across the face. The fourth film, Fast & Furious, has no numerical appendage at all, while Fast Five simply drops the word “Furious” from its title, though it’s called Fast & Furious 5 in a few countries (occasionally with the subtitle Rio Heist). At last we’re making headway with the coherently titled Fast & Furious 6, even though the opening title merely reads Furious 6. Is a little consistency too much to ask for? Good luck to any outsider who tries to figure out the order of these films.

Screenwriter Morgan reached an unimaginable creative high with Fast Five, recovering from the unredeemable Tokyo Drift and the merely ordinary fourth film. But he takes a step backwards here, with the scribe cooking up some of the worst banter you’re likely to hear this summer. It’s full of hammy jokes, consistent uses of the word “family,” deep discussions about what it means to be a family, characters verbalising their every thought, unnecessarily prolonged exposition, and silly threats. Furious 6 runs a tremendous 130 minutes, and the flow of the film is disrupted during all the chatter. With that said, though, there are things to admire about the picture’s construction. Particularly shrewd is the use of Letty, which gives the protagonists a compelling reason to return for duty after their massive score in the last movie.

Lin is a fantastic visual stylist, and his work here is easily on a par with Fast Five. The director’s handling of each set-piece is exquisite; all major money shots were executed with precision, and he relies a lot on practical effects with minimal CGI. You come to Fast & Furious 6 seeking action, and Lin delivers in a huge way. The fights are particularly awesome here, most notably when the gigantic Johnson is pitted against someone his own size. The cinematography is a tad shaky, but never to the point of distraction – it’s easy to follow what’s happening, and the set-pieces are very exciting. The climax (which unfolds on a runway that must be 50 miles long) is wonderfully executed too, and it’s astonishing how brutal some of the deaths are within the restraints of the film’s PG-13 rating. However, Furious 6 is exhaustively idiotic. At times the stupidity does translate to exhilarating viewing, but on other occasions it’s just too much, relying on cartoon logic which clashes with the gritty tone. Characters walk away from devastating car wrecks without so much as a scratch, and no mortal man would ever be able to survive what Dom goes through during the third act. Perhaps most bothersome is the resolution of the tank sequence, which is so empty-headed that cinema patrons were laughing hysterically in my screening. I know it’s a fool’s errand to ask for plausibility in this series, but there’s a line. This is just too far.

Fast & Furious 6 is not an actor’s movie by any means, but the performances across the board are serviceable. Making the biggest impression is Johnson, whose current muscular build could send grizzly bears running scared. Continuing to show us that he actually has charisma and talent, he’s terrific as Hobbs, and it’s nice to see Johnson pursuing characters like this in lieu of kiddie dreck. Meanwhile, Diesel and Walker are on autopilot here, for better or for worse, and Evans is a pretty flat, interchangeable villain. Faring better are Gibson and Bridges, who deliver strong comic relief, while Rodriguez is solid if unremarkable. Gina Carano, however, is a boring blank slate as Hobbs’ partner. She can definitely fight, but her acting skills are on the same level as a high schooler in a class play.

Ultimately, Fast & Furious 6 delivers what it says on the tin, as it’s full of delirious junk food thrills brought to life with strong production values. There are unintentional giggles to be had at the more than a few “oh, come on!” moments, not to mention it’s often cumbersome whenever dialogue is the primary focus, but it’s a crowd-pleasing action flick, and the good outweighs the bad. Be sure to stick around once the end credits begin to roll, as there’s a great extra scene which teases the upcoming seventh instalment.

7.3/10