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"Fast & Furious 6" 

American muscle

That's right, Vin Diesel. It's me. Did you really think I'd miss our biennial date, the one where I hang out in the dark with a lapful of candy while you drive and punch and growl and drive? Honestly, the fact that we even have this time together is downright shocking, given that the "Fast & Furious" conceit was basically flatlining after 2006's "Tokyo Drift." Over the course of the last several years, however, you and your crew not only reanimated the franchise, but reinvented it by locking into a blueprint designed for global appeal. "F&F" chapters are now bona fide event movies, two frenetic hours where audiences have an unironic blast immersing themselves in noisy, preposterous situations involving musclebound dudes, barely dressed chicks, and tricked-out rides.

Somehow gleefully surpassing its predecessors in terms of energy, melodrama, and utter implausibility, the crazy-fun "Fast & Furious 6" is your latest go-round as Dominic Toretto, street-racer-turned-thief-turned-prison-escapee-turned-thief-again-turned-wealthy-expat-in-a-country-with-no-extradition. It's in the gorgeous Canary Islands that the nearly neckless federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) intrigues Toretto with a recent surveillance photo of an apparently alive Letty along with a deal: help the law take down Letty's boss, Eurotrash baddie Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), in exchange for... well, you guys eventually hammer that out. We know it's just an excuse to get the band back together.

So Toretto's de facto family reunites in London, their teasing chemistry intact and one of this series' true pleasures. But Han's constant snacking and Rome's miserly ways are not what people came to see, Vin Diesel, so it's not long before Toretto, et al., are going tire to tire with Shaw and his henchpeople, including an amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez returns!). Shaw's evil plan involves — oh, who cares. You already know, and I've already forgotten. What matters is that Shaw's people have Formula One-ish skeleton cars with front ends that act as ramps, sending opposing traffic into midair, because it's just not an "F&F" flick without massive property damage and a high civilian body count. Plus at least one flashy street race to give local strippers a chance to moonlight as extras.

Another hallmark of this franchise is the operatic action interludes, typically designed for maximum thrills and in "Furious 6" — as it's known on the title card — resetting an already-high bar. All I will say is that the tank set piece is bonkers, while the final showdown, involving a cargo jet and what might be the world's longest runway, completely abandons any pretense of realism. But don't be insulted, Vin Diesel! No one is looking to "F&F" movies for lessons in cinema verité; we want twisted metal, loud explosions, and gravity-mocking stunts. We also like a little hand-to-hand combat, which we get in various pairs, including a couple of skillfully choreographed brawls between Rodriguez and ex-MMA fighter Gina Carano ("Haywire") as Hobbs' sidekick.

Obviously, Vin Diesel, it's not your fault that most of Toretto's dialogue sounds like it was cribbed from the inside of a fortune cookie — and, at one laughable moment, Brillat-Savarin's "The Physiology of Taste" — but it's not out of character, and few can either brood or sparkle like you. Even Paul Walker as former cop O'Conner seems to be improving with age, and the rest of the team gets some quality screen time, especially Chris Bridges' Tej and Sung Kang's Han. Now, if I were to do my job correctly, I'd thank my lucky stars that the plot saw fit to mostly sideline the awful Jordana Brewster's Mia, and I'd wonder why The Rock, usually quite magnetic, is so dull as Hobbs.

And I am beyond impressed that director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan were able to wrangle this behemoth mythology into something both linear and coherent after seemingly bringing Han back from the dead for 2009's jumpstarter "Fast & Furious." Yeah, you know what I'm talking about: that end-credit scene which almost seamlessly weaves "Tokyo Drift" into the story, answering questions about Han's death and setting everything up for "Fast 7." Oh, and introducing one of the planet's biggest action stars as the ultimate super-villain. "You don't know me yet," he snarls to Toretto over the phone as a decimated car erupts into a giant fireball. "But you will." I almost cheered. Kidding! I totally f--king cheered.

Let's do it again next year, Vin Diesel. How does July 11 work for you?

Ride or die,


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