By Darren Franich
Updated May 29, 2013 at 02:00 PM EDT
Sidney Baldwin

The first three films in the Fast & Furious franchise had almost nothing to do with each other. Cars were driven quickly, usually by radically different groups of people. In a weird twist, the next three Fast movies suddenly became rigidly focused on continuity, uniting the disparate Fast casts into a big old-fashioned Super Adventure Squad. At the same time, the franchise also added in Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock), who brought his own action-star flavor to the series. Well, the conclusion of Fast & Furious 6 — SPOILER ALERT, natch — features the franchise’s neatest continuity trick yet, while also introducing a brand new action star to the Fastology.

In a post-credits scene, Fast circles back around to a pivotal scene in Tokyo Drift, sending Han off to the great beyond… while simultaneously revealing the apparent baddie for next year’s Fast 7 will be played by Jason Statham, a.k.a. the Cranksporter.

The addition of Statham is, I think, a smart move for the franchise. In its post-Tokyo Drift reincarnation as a genuine big-screen saga, the Fast franchise has followed a casting model that could be termed Hollywood Moneyball: It constantly casts actors who are undervalued for one reason or another, and fits them into an ensemble that allows them to show off their particular skill set without having to carry a movie. Fast Five caught The Rock at the moment when he was settling into a post-action career as a family-movie guy (The Tooth Fairy, Race to Witch Mountain) and gave him a better showcase for his unique straightfaced-over-the-top charisma than any of his solo movies. Likewise, Fast 6 padded out its cast with UFC star Gina Carano and The Raid martial arts badass Joe Taslim — two people who would never get the chance to carry a Hollywood movie (and who, at least in Carano’s case, might not actually be able to act), but who could both provide an essential ingredient to the Fast stew.

Fast 6 also featured the return of Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty, which was not a secret, and the somewhat more surprising return of Fast 4‘s baddie, Arturo Braga. Will Fast 7 feature more returning cast members? And, with Statham and Johnson already onboard, what other undervalued action stars could/should/would join up? Let’s pull a Billy Beane and run the numbers on this:

Characters Who Could Return

Sean Boswell: Fast 6 ends in the middle of Tokyo Drift. At the end of Tokyo Drift, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torretto is in town — in the retconned Fast 6 sequence of events, it seems likely that he’s investigating the death of Han. Could Tokyo be a major setting for Fast 7? And if so, wouldn’t it make sense for the star of Tokyo Drift to make an appearance? Possibly. There are two problems with this. Boswell was a high schooler, and Lucas Black barely looked like a teenager in 2006. Also, even people who defend Tokyo Drift probably don’t defend it because of the fascinating character arc of Sean Boswell.

Twinkie and Neela: AKA “Bow Wow” and “The Girl From Tokyo Drift.” Look, I love Tokyo Drift, but short of a hello-goodbye cameo, it’s hard to believe that Fast 7 would dwell too much on the third film.

Sergeant Tanner: In 2001, Ted Levine co-starred with Paul Walker in two films about cars. In The Fast and the Furious, he played his trusted mentor figure; in Joy Ride, he played a psychotic trucker trying to kill Walker and everyone he cared about. Since Fast 7 ends with the characters returned to L.A., this would be the perfect opportunity for Levine to swing by. Perhaps he could even offer Brian O’Conner yet another job in law enforcement.

Monica Fuentes: Eva Mendes appeared for a cool post-credits cameo in Fast Five, but otherwise she’s been absent from the series since 2 Fast 2 Furious. She didn’t have much to do in 2 Fast besides look incredibly hot, but she’s given a whole array of intriguing performances lately in varied movies, from The Other Guys to Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Plus, if Monica Fuentes rejoined the series, Tyrese could finally have a love interest that’s not Ludacris.

Actors Who Could Join The Franchise

Milla Jovovich: Like Statham before her, Jovovich has her own franchise (Resident Evil) that no one really respects, but which has a big fan base and plays well internationally. Like Johnson before her, there’s a sense that Jovovich is a movie star who hasn’t quite found her defining role yet — even in Resident Evil, she’s less a character than a weird compilation of action-heroine tropes. Give her a villain-y role to sink her teeth into, and a car with spikes or a missile launcher or something. Perhaps a weird accent? Maybe she’s Statham’s vengeful ex-girlfriend?

Paula Patton: Jovovich would represent a savvy investment in a proven stock that has stayed steady for many years. Patton is a different story. Patton snatched Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol out from under star Tom Cruise and nominal protege Jeremy Renner, but since then, her only action role has been playing third fiddle to Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in this summer’s 2 Guns. She looks believable and great when she’s kicking ass. It’s been rumored that Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs will have a reduced role in Fast 7; maybe she could swoop in as his cousin, Veruca Hobbs. Nickname: “She-Hobbs.” I’m just free associating here.

Karl Urban: You know who’s great? Karl Urban. He was great in Lord of the Rings, where he played like the twelth lead; he was great in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot series, where his Dr. McCoy has been demoted to a one-liner machine; and he was great in Dredd 3D, which I swear was underrated, and featured Urban in a helmet for the entire running time. Karl Urban deserves your respect, America/universe. He might finally be earning it with this fall’s exciting new sci-fi series Alien Nation Almost Human. But if that plan also fails, he’d make a great addition to the Fast cast. And he’s already costarred with Vin Diesel in The Chronicles of Riddick and this summer’s sequel Screw Chronicles Just Riddick.

Tony Jaa: Tony Jaa did Ong-Bak. Tona Jaa did this. After a brief sabbatical as, well, a monk, Tony Jaa is making movies again. Tony Jaa is apparently planning to costar with Dolph Lundgren in a movie. Tony Jaa shouldn’t do that. Tony Jaa should join Fast & Furious. I HAVE SPOKEN.

Michael K. Williams: Since The Wire, Williams has been a reliable and underutilized presence on Boardwalk Empire. He hasn’t appeared in a major movie since Brooklyn’s Finest, a bad movie he stole from everyone in the cast; next up, he’s got a supporting role in 12 Years a Slave and RoboCop. This is, to put it mildly, a waste of the talents of the man who transformed soulful outlaw Omar Little into one of the great defining characters of modern TV history.Quick, picture Omar. Now picture Omar driving a tricked-out muscle car. Now picture Omar driving that tricked-out muscle car from the top of one skyscraper to the top of a slightly smaller skyscraper, while Tony Jaa drives a motorcycle over that muscle car, and also Karl Urban.

James Franco: Inevitable.

Olga Kurylenko: An actress who is everywhere and yet remains curiously unknown, Kurylenko has starred in a James Bond movie, a bleak indie comedy, a Roman epic, and a nude-friendly TV show; she had two movies released within a week in April, one of them a Terrence Malick transcendental romance, the other a Tom Cruise sci-fi epic. She’s clearly game for anything. She has an undeniable action-heroine presence. Maybe she could be Milla Jovovich’s vengeful half-sister.

Gerard Butler: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait. Hear me out. Yes, Gerard Butler has mostly squandered all his 300 goodwill on terrible action movies and terrible romantic comedies. But in 300 and the little-seen Coriolanus, Butler brought a surprising amount of heart to his warlords. And although his last two movies were terrible — trust me, I reviewed them — both of them gave Butler the opportunity to play a slightly older, even burnt-out version of his usual douche-brute persona. I see Butler as an older car guy, maybe even a onetime mentor figure for Brian or Dom, who comes to them in a time of strife requiring their help…and who secretly has devious motives or something. Guys, seriously, he was great in Coriolanus.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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