In order to even begin to enjoy the “The Fast and the Furious” movie series, a healthy suspension of disbelief and willingness to put aside notions of logic are required. The latest installment, ‘The Fate of the Furious,’ the 8th (?!) in a steady two-year release cycle starting in 2001, is no exception. The movie is packed with unbelievable automotive stunt sequences, liberally aided by CGI, betrayals and character reversals, cameos; basically everything the audience comes to expect from this franchise, although this time there is a hint of exhaustion and tedium amidst the carnage.
Since its’ modest beginnings as an underground racing / car culture / renegade outlaw family set of films, the F&F series has morphed into a big, loud, espionage-lite action behemoth. As its’ locales have gone global and schemes have become grander, so has its’ audience expanded. From a financial perspective, the studio couldn’t be happier as it can attract all kinds of talent to play villains and allies and rake in the dough. From an artistic perspective, the franchise has become somewhat formulaic and even a little generic. To change things up, long-time screenwriter Chris Morgan and new director to the series F. Gary Gray (‘Straight Out of Compton’), take what initially sounds like a different approach, but it ultimately amounts to more of the same.
Vin Diesel’s Dom may be the leader of the crew, but he’s surrounded by so many big personalities that it is hard to refer to him as the star of this show. In this installment’s recycled plot from better films, Dom is blackmailed into working for the series newly introduced villain Cypher (Charlize Theron living up to her moniker by remaining a little too coolly detached) on a series of escalating weapons heists. His betrayal leads to the incarceration of (agent? cop? who can know for sure?) Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, still a welcome highlight) and the recruitment of his team (Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson to name a few) by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody to take him down. They are also joined by returning villain, now ally, Deckard (Jason Statham showing he’s still got the action chops), who provides an easy foil in his rapport with Johnson. Oh yeah, and even Dame Helen Mirren shows up in an extended cockney cameo.
If this all seems like too much, it really is, although this busy-ness is required to keep the pace and distract from the film’s obvious flaws. While it is a nice sentiment that these diverse rogue characters apparently have an infinite capacity for forgiveness (after all, it was only one movie ago where Statham’s Deckard murdered the beloved Han and blew up their house in LA), their interactions are all posturing, their personalities are one dimensional, and their reactions to situations are silly. It’s evident in every souped-up scene of zany hijinks, from the exciting but absurd race through Havana, Cuba that opens the film, to the ridiculous NYC smart car siege, and finally, the extended submarine (yes, submarine) chase across the Russian ice. While ‘Fate’ is a weaker link in the ‘Fast and Furious’ chain, it still has all the requisite notions that audiences have come to expect and they’ve come in droves . . .
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Written By: Chris Morgan
Running Time: 136 min.
* * ½ (out of 4 stars) -OR- B-