And so, with Iron Man 3 and the Star Trek sequel already out of the traps, the next big screen behemoth of this 2013 summer season arrives, courtesy of Universal’s frighteningly fecund Fast and the Furious series – the wheel-grinding saga which cranks out its unceasing installments with the same semi-indecent haste of the Carry On films.
Having only begun in 2001, we’ve now already reached Fast & Furious 6. But while this might be the sixth wheel of this particular action cycle, it’s the very first movie in the whole series that I’ve watched properly from start to finish (as opposed to catching garbled snippets in ITV2’s coveted post-pub timeslot).
Not that a great deal of catch-up was required. Even if the opening titles hadn’t offered a full-throttle recap of the previous outings, so deeply unoriginal is the DNA of this movie that you’d have to be a just-resurrected Egyptian pharaoh to have not seen every step of Fast & Furious 6’s story played out a dozen times before.
Mind you, the tossed-off attitude towards the narrative is entirely deliberate on the part of screenwriter Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin (helming his fourth and final Fast and the Furious, as he makes way for James Wan).
These two know the F & F fans like Bruce Wayne knows the agreeable feel of a tight rubber codpiece, and inventiveness of plot ranks as highly for them as growing a big bushy moustache does for Scarlett Johansson.
Nope, so long as the cars are sleek, shiny and plentiful, so long as there’s only the shortest of waits before the next sock to the jaw or pointless explosion, and so long as Vin Diesel is present in his lead role as Dominic Toretto, looking like an entire butcher’s window display tipped into a wife-beater and mumbling like a vicar’s son who’s just toked his first doobie, then all is well is this slick, resolutely silly world.
It’s a silliness that keeps the primarily London-set proceedings whizzing off in all manner of random directions – whether it’s Paul Walker’s vapid sap Brian O’Conner jetting back to LA to spend a night in clink, or Ludacris’s Tej needing to buy a fleet of motors from an unfeasibly camp ‘n’ snooty English stereotype, seemingly just wandered in from one of those earlier-mentioned Carry On flicks.
All the while, Fast & Furious 6 keeps jostling you in the ribs and winking at you, like an uncomfortably over-familiar barroom bore, letting you know that it’s in on the gag. Yeah, it chortles, I know I’m unremittingly dreadful, but hey! I’m sure as hell ain’t taking myself seriously. Why should you?
Why? Because this isn’t a full-on lampoon in Airplane! tradition – even if Dwayne Johnson comes over so hilariously dense when delivering his lines as lawman Luke Hobbs that he designates himself the perfect candidate to play the late Leslie Nielsen’s long-lost nephew in a Naked Gun reboot (“Tank” Drebin, anyone?).
And this means that when the movie attempts to be even semi-dramatic and involving, particularly in the scenes dealing with the return of the previously-thought-kaput Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and her subsequent clash of loyalties between Toretto and rasping rat-bag Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), it’s completely ineffectual as anything other than a dynamite cue to exercise your yawning gear.
Contrast this with the sure touch of the third Iron Man, which managed to be bright, breezy and genuinely funny, while still giving its audience a story-world to believe in, and Fast & Furious 6 really does start to look rather shonky.
Owen Shaw, incidentally, along with Luke Hobbs and Brian O’Conner, completes what is surely the dullest trio of character names in any blockbuster movie this side of Last of the Summer Wine Strikes Back. And in the unlikely event of that imagined old-fogeys-in-a-runaway-bathtub epic opening opposite Fast & Furious 7 in 2014, I know which one’ll be getting my ten quid.
Fast & Furious 6 is released in the UK on 17 May