Reviews for each installment in this series of films almost always start out with some iteration of, “check your brain at the door”, “suspend your disbelief”, etc. This certainly applies to the most recent entry originally dubbed simply ‘F9’, that has now inexplicably acquired a ‘The Fast Saga’ qualifier, despite the fact that none previous felt compelled to carry such a subtitle. Rather than litigate the plausibility of its physics or interrogating its latest soap opera trope (this time taking the form of long lost family member), viewers already know at this point what they’re in for when they go to see a Fast & Furious movie.
And what a spectacle it is – after a brief reintroduction to off-the-grid parents Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) living on a farm, they’re pulled back into the spy game due to a South American distress call from Mr.Nobody (a literally Zoomed-in Kurt Russell). What ensues from here is the first gloriously over the top action set piece of the film – a car, motorcycle, and other assorted vehicle chase that also introduces the aforementioned brother audiences never knew Dom had, John Cena’s Jakob. While this development may not have worked out as well as returning filmmaker Justin Lin had intended (Cena is pretty flat as a humorless pseudo-baddie), it does allow for an interesting exploration of a formative moment in the characters’ past. The events are presented visually over grainy film to represent Dom’s father’s 80s stock car racing days, alluded to way back in the original film, twenty years old this year.
Despite taking some chances with these flashbacks and casting of younger versions of some of the main characters, it’s the stunts, the cars, and personalities audiences have come to expect that help ‘F9’ shine. With the unfortunate loss of Paul Walker (the Dom/Brian dynamic is sorely missed in these last two installments) and a lack of compelling villains (despite the presence of Charlize Theron hamming it up inside a plastic box), this movie can’t quite achieve the highs of some of the best in the series. However, based on an insane amount of inspired shenanigans with magnets, a car literally launched into space, and the return of well-deserved fan-favorite Han (Sung Kang as cool as ever even if he doesn’t have a ton to do), there’s plenty to latch onto. One could do much worse returning to the movies, as ‘F9’ demands to be seen on the big screen. If this kind of thing isn’t reason enough to get off the couch, then what’s even the point any more? Family indeed . . .
Directed By: Justin Lin
Written By: Daniel Casey & Justin Lin
Running Time: 143 min.
* * * (out of four stars) -or- B