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Fast & Furious 6

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'Fast & Furious 6': Not slowing down
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies

Hollywood's most improbably enduring action franchise returns with "Fast & Furious 6," another high-energy entry into the ever-evolving series that has gradually turned a cop and a criminal into the leaders of a talented international ring of car experts in the most entertaining way possible. This time around, Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) are back for one last job (aren't they always?), emerging from their short-lived retirement to help their unlikely pal, Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), take down some truly bad guys, uncover a secret that's haunted Dom for years, and earn a little bit of American freedom along the way.

Originally conceived as a one-off star vehicle for Walker, the "Fast and Furious" franchise has unexpectedly turned into a global box-office draw, and the series shows no sign of slowing down. Last year's smash-hit "Fast Five" seamlessly steered the films into a new direction: While fast cars and hot babes are still essential parts of the revved-up recipe, the series now imagines Dom, Brian and their highly skilled "family" as good guys, even when they're knocking over banks, and especially when they're helping to take down actual evildoers, like Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). But this new version of the franchise comes with its own unique challenges, and "Fast & Furious 6" struggles when it's tasked with reverse-engineering mythology that has to be made up wholesale for some necessary motivation and emotional impact.

Such mythology comes into play when Hobbs comes looking for Dom for his help in capturing Shaw, a former Special Ops soldier who is now stealing and selling military-grade weapons on the black market -- and who doesn't care whom he hurts while doing it. Shaw doesn't just have cool cars, a nonexistent moral compass and a nefarious plan; he also has Dom's long-thought-dead girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the crew (including returning favorites Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) can't very well pledge their familial fidelity to one another without trying to get her back into the fold. It gets complicated (and fast), but returning director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan do the best they can to make sense of years of the material in a way that serves their characters. Still, let's hope this is the last we have to hear of baddies who should have been left back where they belong, two movies ago.

The first half of "Fast & Furious 6" is relatively tame in terms of action, though it does include an extended car chase through the streets of London and a handful of brutal fist-to-fist fighting sequences (a London Underground-set scuffle that pits Michelle Rodriguez against Gina Carano is particularly jaw-dropping). But this is a "Fast and Furious" film, and no one wants to see the gang cruising along in neutral, so it's fortunate that Lin gets things back on track once the film shifts into its imaginative and action-packed second half. It's a solid hour of adrenaline-pumping operations that are marked by two absolutely massive chase sequences that make staggeringly good use of winding seaside highways, a military runaway, a tank, a giant aircraft carrier and enough flashy cars to tide us over until the inevitable next installment.

A seventh "Fast and Furious"? Bet on it. And if the mid-credit stinger for "Fast & Furious 6" is any indication, the next film will be the most high-octane yet.

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Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in New York City.

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