Guys, we already saw the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movie we all asked for when it was called XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE.
Allegiances and motives are constantly in flux in director F. Gary Gray’s THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS – so much so, it may cause you to question your allegiance to this makeshift cinematic family. Good guys turn bad! Bad guys turn good! And all of it makes for a moderately thrilling, sometimes sluggish actioner. F8TE rides and occasionally dies on thin ice. While it’s not the worst of the franchise (that “honor” is still bequeathed to 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS), it nowhere near equals the outrageousness and fun of the stronger chapters (TOKYO DRIFT, FURIOUS 7).
In a previous installment, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) turned her back on her vehicular-violence family. Now the filmmakers do it again – this time with family figurehead Dom (Vin Diesel). The lovebirds are honeymooning in Cuba when Dom is approached by cyber-criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron, sporting tiny dreads like a co-ed just back from spring break in Jamaica), threatening him with blackmail if he doesn’t come work for her. As she shows him a mysterious video (which I was legit convinced was Dom conducting unsavory business with a goat), she espouses that when she’s done with him, he’ll turn his back on his code and his family. His “family” has other ideas. Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (fake Rihanna Nathalie Emmanuel) and Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) know family never truly turns their back on each other. To help aid the Dom squad, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his trainee, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), rope in Deckard (Jason Statham) – who must learn to get along with his main adversary, Hobbs, whose heart isn’t into the job anymore. The quest takes our beloved crew on the typical globe-trotting adventure the franchise is known for. However, its energy is dialed down lower, going from A, to B, to C.
Veteran series screenwriter Chris Morgan allows for patterns from the past films to inform and influence a few key elements here which is good. That said, it adds nothing really unique, exciting or exuberant to the proceedings. What it lacks is a tangible sense of high-octane fuel injected into its narrative’s engine. Gone are any homo-erotic undertones to bring out any camp. Situations are taken far too seriously for any of that. Even the typical blustering and machismo seem watered down. F8TE is in desperate need of an assertive identity – one that embraces the ludicrousness (Ludacris-ness?) and ridiculousness inherent to the series. At least Gray works in an almost innocuous FRIDAY reference for good measure.
The edits on Hobbs’ introduction are evocative of Brian’s cleverly-edited carpool opening in FURIOUS 7, except it lacks the same energetic drive. Sure, there’s a semi-clever gunfight on an airplane that has Deckard protecting a precious package. Only that gets obscured by Gray’s shaky camerawork – a technique he leans on too heavily during the prison break sequence as well. He’s also overly reliant on booming bass stingers to emphasize moments in the action. Helen Mirren’s casting is a modest blip on F8TE’s radar. Though it’s refreshing that the objectification of women is mainly kept to the opening credits sequence, the one sequence showing Letty kicking ass (again obscured by shaky cam) in hand to hand combat is all too brief. Listen, I should be happy we’re represented as the formidable, persuasive villain. Self-driving “zombie cars” is a little predictable, but it’s no less enjoyable to see more CG-enhanced, cacophonous car-crunching mayhem. Cars outrunning a submarine feels bombastic enough to delight series fans, but it’s still not quite there. Even Cipher’s non-stop plane that never lands to refuel seems silly enough to push the over-the-topness over the top and yet, nope. Not quite.
Nevertheless, as fans, we’ve been conditioned by the seven previous films to never turn our back on family. So to honor Dom, we must continue to raise our ice cold Coronas high in the air to toast another chapter, regardless if it’s the story we deserved.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS opens on April 14.