YOU COULD call "Fast and Furious" cinema's greatest guilty pleasure, except nobody feels guilty about it.
Not the actors, who make jokes in the magazines about its paltry Oscar chances. Not the audiences, who line up as if participating in some kind of cosmic prank, to ensure that history records Paul Walker and Vin Diesel as the most popular actors of their generation.
The movies have different casts, different directors, and it doesn't matter - the creative hive-brain of the franchise keeps on crashing cars and making money.
And so, "F&F" has outlasted Transformers and Caribbean pirates, and shows no sign of abating - Part 6 ends with an end-credit promo for Part 7, future stars already inked.
Advocates say its multiethnic, multinational cast accounts for this popularity - true, but "Star Trek" reminds us that Gene Roddenberry was doing this in 1966.
My theory is that "F&F" is at its best when it follows the three Ms - muscles, muscle cars and Michelle Rodriguez.
You can say it's preposterous that Rodriguez (killed off in the series' fourth installment) turns up alive in "Fast and Furious 6," but I take the opposite view. It's preposterous to believe that Rodriguez can be killed. Zombie Dobermans couldn't kill her in "Resident Evil." Uwe Boll couldn't kill her career in "BloodRayne."
She's a survivor, this lady, and bounces back from being "dead" in "F&F4" to return in "6," affirming herself as the toughest character in the series, Rock or no Rock.
Woe to Gina Carano, then, the MMA fighter brought in to "Fast and Furious 6" for the sole purpose of beating on Rodriguez, and vice versa.
These are the simple pleasures of "F&F." Other franchises raise the FX bar with some motion-capture yawn or another; "F&F" throws more punches, crashes more cars.
Or tanks and Russian cargo jets.
These are the highlights of "6," which has the F&F gang taking on their "evil twins," a group of car-fanatic European mercenary/heist specialists trying to steal NATO technology. The Rock offers full pardons for the gang if they assist in apprehending this new threat, and it's on.
Most of the action takes place in London, but "6" is all over the map - Rio, Tokyo, Europe and the U.S. in the span of a few minutes. The franchise is known for its multiethnic appeal, but it also was one of the first to grasp that the future was the globe-trotting, citizen-of-the-world movie property.
"F&F" is typically preposterous, but the series needs to be careful it doesn't get too sloppy (or allow individual movies to run too long). Director Justin Lin at some point ceases to explain how characters get from one continent to the next - it's as if they have a transporter beam.