With "Fast & Furious 6" roaring into theaters this week, guests at the U.S. premiere of the film at Universal CityWalk got an early taste of the franchise's signature, over-the-top style -- including slick cars, tough characters and a grill-wearing panda.
The scene along the red carpet exemplified the kind of amiable culture clash that results when a big-money franchise is built upon the tastes of a young urban fan base.
The "Fast & Furious" movies star Vin Diesel as ex-con street racer Dominic Toretto, whose familial criminal crew includes former cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), gearhead Tej Parker (Ludacris), former gang member Han (Sung Kang) and former Mossad agent Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot).
At the premiere Tuesday night, suit-clad agents, producers and car company executives made their way down the carpet as a fog of pot smoke wafted in from the adjacent, pre-movie fan concert featuring the rappers 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa, who appear on the movie's soundtrack.
Actor Tyrese Gibson took the concert stage and proclaimed the action series "one of the most progressive franchises in film history" -- a nod, perhaps, to "Fast & Furious' " multicultural cast, flinty female characters or extravagant, mostly CGI-free car chase scenes, such as one in the new film in which an Army tank crushes a 1969 Mustang.
Michelle Rodriguez, whose mechanic/street racer character Letty is revived in the new movie after an apparent death in the fourth film, posed for photographers in a demure, floor-length white gown before turning to a fan screaming her name from the bleachers. "Yo! That's my crew," Rodriguez shouted, flexing a muscle.
As Wiz Khalifa's anthem "Work Hard Play Hard" boomed in the background, the famous and the semi-famous posed beside cars from the film that were parked along the carpet -- passersby included model (and Wiz Khalifa's girlfriend) Amber Rose, actress Tara Reid and the visually arresting pop group Fly Panda, whose entourage included a statuesque, tattoo-covered woman with a mohawk, a guy in a "Billionaire" snapback and a panda wearing gold chains and a grill.
After the movie screened at the Gibson Amphitheatre, the party sprawled out onto the concourse, with women in short shorts dancing on a stage above a dessert table stacked with pastel-colored macaroons and mini chocolate mousses.
Kim Kold, a hulking, 300-pound body builder and actor with a fight scene opposite Dwayne Johnson in the film, shook hands and posed for photos while Rodriguez -- having shed her gown for a more casual black blouse and pants-- took over the DJ booth for a set.
"Fast & Furious 6," which has already opened in parts of Europe and Asia, opens in the U.S. on Friday.
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