“Fast and Furious,” a more ethnically diverse “Ocean’s Eleven”?

ImageThe box office success of the ongoing “Fast & Furious” franchise is a marvel of modern Hollywood marketing — identifying an audience and giving them what they want.

These are heist pictures, bordering on caper comedies (Tyrese Gibson gets most of the laughs in the new one), impossibly expensive, impossibly impossible tales of a “team” that’s more like “family” which pulls together — each with his or her role to play — to steal something or (in the case of the newest film) keep something from being stolen.

They’re “Ocean’s Eleven,” with cars, less sophistication (Steven Soderbergh is Hollywood’s smartest director), but with a rainbow cast of Hispanic, Asian, black, white and “other” actors to add to their appeal. The audience for these films, personal experience has told me (feature stories on the tuner crowd which comes to the local premieres) is largely Latino. And the latest film is no exception — a majority of the moviegoers are Latin, with African Americans, Asians and Caucasians filling out the theaters.

There’s Michelle Rodriguez, killed off in an earlier film, brought back to life for this one. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang have their moments. Paul Walker is solid set-dressing.

And back when they were first heralded as “The next Generation of Action Stars,” Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson were pitched as pan-racial. They further flavor the ethnic mix.

The capers are drab and “Road Warrior” repetitious. Justin Lin has settled into a routine, directing them — shots of impossibly noisy gear shifting, tires bawling smoke billowing. Laws of physics, as I said in my review, need not apply. The villains are fairly generic, now that we’ve gotten past the whole Paul Walker/cop infiltrates the gang thing.

But it’s the “family” of it all,  “familia,” the community, that makes these movies work. The inclusiveness, the gender role defying casting. You could make the case that there’s no more American movie franchise this side of “Captain America.”

The new film, opening to huge numbers here and overseas, teases to the seventh film in the franchise, and as long as young men and couples drive their tuned up Hondas, Hyundai’s, etc. to the movies, this beast may never die. And with the villainous actor showing up in that final tease, the driving stuff and action beats can only get better.

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