Whenever a character in a movie disparagingly mentions James Bond, you know that movie will be doing all in its power to emulate the James Bond oeuvre.
So it is in Fast & Furious 6, a franchise unique in Hollywood in that it morphed before our eyes, starting out as a series of movies about illegal street racing for gearheads and changing into a kind of blue-collar 007.
Remember, it started out in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, which featured lots of L.A. street races attended almost exclusively by beautiful young models in short skirts, all shot at crotch level. It was always an elaborate fantasy of hot cars and hot women. Universal Studios just upped the ante to include international intrigue.
Thus, original partners in crime Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and ex-cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), living a life of leisure after the successful heist from the last movie, are recruited by muscular Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to join in the pursuit of a former Special Services agent called Shaw (Luke Evans). A super-criminal who has assembled his own "evil twin" crew of high-speed felons, Shaw is in pursuit of components for something called the Nightshade Device.
It's something else that draws Toretto's attention. One of Shaw's confederates is his ex-girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), presumed dead and buried if you saw the fourth movie.
Demonstrating familial loyalty, Dom's entire crew heads for London, including comic-relief wiseass Roman (Tyrese Gibson), tech wizard Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Asian ace Han (Sung Kang) and his romantic partner Giselle (Gal Gadot), all joining Hobbs and his new partner Riley (mixed martial artist Gina Carano of Haywire).
Fights, races and chases ensue, including a doozy in London where Shaw drives a weird wedge-shaped car deliberately designed to send his pursuers airborne. Dom's crew is equally stymied when pursuing a high-speed armoured tank down a highway.
But where there's direct-port nitrous injection, there's a way.
The series is getting sillier as it goes, with digitally enhanced stunts so ridiculous, contemporary Bond movies look like documentary realism by comparison.
But director Justin Lin somehow manages to pop a little nitrous into this series with a deftly balanced fuel blend of melodrama, action and heavy metal.
It's dumb fun. It must be summer.
By the way, if you're at all invested in this series, don't leave when the credits start to roll.
Excerpts of select reviews of Fast & Furious 6:
Bad movies are rarely as much fun as these Fast and the Furious pictures. And make no mistake about it -- they're bad.
-- Roger Moore, Movie Nation
Here's a movie that could easily have been dialogue-free. And probably would have been better for it.
-- Claudia Puig, USA Today
For my money, Furious 6 is more fun than Skyfall and a lot more fun than the deadly dull Star Trek Into Darkness, both of which ask you to take their silly plots way too seriously.
-- Lou Lumenick, New York Post
Furious 6 is even cooler and more aerodynamically delirious than its predecessor, if such a thing is even theoretically possible.
-- Richard Corliss, Time Magazine