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Review: 'Fast & Furious 6' is one sweet ride

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As Socrates so sagely suggested when he stopped by the set of "Fast & Furious 6" — "Yo, know thyself..."

Dom and crew certainly took the words to heart. For all the excess in the latest installment of the adrenaline-injected street-racing action franchise, its humble, low-budget 2001 beginnings are still visible today in the rear-view mirror of Dom's super souped-up 1969 Dodge Daytona Charger.

Buildings topple, bridges crumble and speed limits are shamelessly broken as "Fast & Furious 6" roars through the streets of London. But the ties that bind are stronger than ever.

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True, the movie doesn't know when or how to put the brakes on. It does, however, understand precisely what it is. No pretensions to greatness, it demonstrates total dedication to "badassness," which I believe is the technical term.

Even though Vin Diesel's Dom insists, "I don't do cold," the entire crew is in the British Isles, having been hijacked by noble ideals, a lost love and the hope of U.S. pardons for all their crimes and misdemeanors. Most recent was the $100 million they skimmed from a Brazilian drug lord in 2011's surprisingly satisfying "Fast Five."

Though it hardly seems possible, director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan have brought even greater intensity to "6." The filmmakers have been on board since 2006's "Tokyo Drift," which brought Dom — and some sizzle in general — back to the party after the disastrous "2 Fast 2 Furious."

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In the new film, the action sequences are the most ambitious yet. The fights are sophisticatedly choreographed to be more brutally bam-bam than ever. And the underlying theme of family and loyalty that remains key to the "Furious" appeal is so heavily underscored, I believe every actor in the film gets to say "family" at least once.

But what really sets "F&F6" apart is the blinding speed with which it shifts between over-the-top action, that speedometer inching toward 800 mph at times, and soap opera emotions that bring everything to a screeching halt. It's enough to give you whiplash … in a good way.

All the "Fast" friends are back. In case you're not up to speed, the hard core include Dom's best friend and ex-FBI-er, Brian (Paul Walker), and Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), who is also Brian's significant other and expecting their child. Roman (Tyrese Gibson), the computer whiz kid Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), "Tokyo Drift's" Han (Sung Kang) and "F&F4's" reformed bad girl Gisele (Gal Gadot) round out the crew.

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But "6's," and Dom's, raison d'être is Letty, one of the franchise originals.

Letty's return from the dead was the big tease at the end of "Fast Five" (this time, the credits carry a hint about "7"). Michelle Rodriguez makes her classic tough chick even tougher. She survived the end we thought we witnessed when her undercover cover in a drug cartel was blown a few "Fasts" back.

Letty is alive but with no memory of Dom or anything else about her former life except how to drive. Her drag race through the streets of London with Dom — their version of foreplay — is reason enough to catch the flick at some point.

For now, though, Letty's under the influence of newly notorious international villain Shaw (Luke Evans). Once a member of British SAS elite forces, he's gone rogue.

The actual "reasons" for Shaw's villainy, beyond selling a secret military thingy for major bucks, is neither clear nor important. Federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who spent "Fast Five" hunting Dom down, now needs his help.

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Why? Well, because Shaw is a fast-car fanatic too. It's as good an excuse as any for Dom et al to pull off the most outrageous and implausible string of road racing maybe in the history of mankind. Shaw's got his own crew of muscle men, but Klaus (Kim Kold) is the only one who is much fun. He is literally bigger than Hobbs, and their face-off, I swear, rattles the theater.

In addition to all the dangerous driving that is the franchise's signature, nearly every major character spends time airborne over great expanses of nothingness, with the ground or some landing spot far, far below — and often moving at high speed — so a shout-out to the stunt team that earned its pay.

Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, long a part of the "F&F" team, does a spiffy job with all of it — the high flying and the buildings, planes and countless vehicles that implode and explode for the greater good.

Still, at times, it's hard not to wish for less. The fights play out in excruciating detail — who said everyone could throw a punch? There is no end to the explosions. The love scenes are the one occasion restraint finally shows up. They are little more than moony glances, mostly between Dom and Letty, but honestly, that was enough.

As much of a kick as "Fast & Furious 6" can be, in the pantheon of film, even action films, it's no Shakespeare. But as Socrates also said, "It is what it is, bro." And that's a pretty sweet ride.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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'Fast & Furious 6'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Playing: In general release

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