Directed by F. Gary Gray.
2017. Rated PG-13, 136 minutes.
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
Any true fan of this series will tell you that the franchise didn’t really hit its stride until it got to the fifth installment, Fast Five when then-director Justin Lin learned from his mistakes of the dour, murky looking fourth film, Fast & Furious. For Fast Five he lit the screen brightly, injected lots of camp, and most importantly, decided the laws of physics are irrelevant. He continued the formula with Fast & Furious 6. James Wan, known for directing haunted house pictures, took over for Furious 7 and didn’t skip a beat. This time, it’s F. Gary Gray’s turn to see if he can manage do stupid in a good way. For this franchise, the danger is in not going far enough with the outrageousness. You have to keep the gas pedal pressed to the floor. Then you have to try to stomp it through the floor. Can he do that? Why yes. Yes, he can.
Gray’s entry starts with poor Dominic Toretto (Diesel). All the man is trying to do is enjoy his honeymoon in Havana, Cuba after all the work he put in over the last few movies to rekindle the flame he shares with Letty (Rodriguez). Since life is never so simple in the Fast and Furious universe their marital bliss doesn’t last long. While being a good Samaritan and trying to help a woman, whose car has stalled, he’s startled when it becomes apparent she knows way too much about him. Soon enough, we learn her name is Cipher (Theron). She offers him a job which he turns down. She then whips out a smartphone and shows him something that she says will not only make him work for her, but betray his own family, the rest of the FF crew. Sure enough, he does. The team doesn’t know what’s going on, but know they must stop him from doing whatever he’s doing because it can potentially destroy the world. Mayhem in various spots around the globe ensues.
If you’ve been down with this series from the beginning you know that street racing was once the backbone of the franchise. Here, there is only one race. It happens before everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Gray uses it to let us know that he is indeed up to the task at hand as what happens is beyond impossible. And we love it. From there, the stunts only get crazier until we eventually get to the point where submarines are chasing cars. Yeah, you read that right. The real highlight of the movie is smack dab in the middle of the film when our heroes and villains all arrive in New York City. It involves a motorcade with limo at its center, dozens (hundreds?) of remote controlled cars, a parking deck, and Dom coming face to face with his team for the first time as adversaries. It’s truly insane, perfectly executed, and immediately became one of my favorite scenes of the entire series. It was a blast just having all that madness tickling my inner thirteen-year-old.
The other strong point of the franchise is its characters. More accurately, it’s more about the personas of these people than seeing them grow as people. Normally, I’m big on character development, but there just isn’t room for that in this series. In lieu of that, everyone stays in their lane. After so many movies each of them is supremely comfortable in their roles. Vin Diesel has got his mumble-growl in full effect, punctuated by random screaming, as always. He’s also a superhero since he’s apparently invulnerable. Similarly invincible is Dwayne Johnson, in full-blown Rock mode as he barks every line as if he’s doing one of those interviews after a WWE match. Jason Statham is all ornery Brit. Michelle Rodriguez is our tough girl. Ludacris nerds it up with some help from Nathalie Emmanuel. Tyrese Gibson gets to be the class clown, again. Kurt Russell is also back as the snarky head of one of those super-duper secret government agencies. One of three major additions to the series, Helen Mirren shows up in what amounts to a cameo. It’s disappointing because we can always use more of her. Scott Eastwood spends the entire movie being bland. Given much more to do is Charlize Theron. She responds by giving us one of the franchise’s best villains. She does so by using a more restrained style of acting than anyone else in the movie, aside from the nearly comatose Eastwood, even though her character is responsible for all the craziness. It’s effective from the moment she first appears on screen.
As The Fate of the Furious roars towards its eventual climax improbabilities, even impossibilities, pile up at rate beyond man’s comprehension. That’s a death knell for many other films. For this one, it’s a selling point. The movie is simply delivering what it promised us: wall to wall ridiculousness. The only attempt at legitimate storytelling is maintaining loyalty and family as central themes and providing Dom and friends with multiple tests of those bonds. It succeeds at this while never losing focus of the real draw: seeing cars, trucks, and all manner of motor vehicle do what we never thought of them doing. Really, what’s the point of giving us layered characters who appeal to our intellect when we’ve got The Rock hanging off a moving vehicle with one hand while using the other to grab a torpedo speeding across the surface of a rapidly deteriorating glacier and reroute it towards the bad guys? This is adrenaline pumping stuff. How much adrenaline? Enough to make a brotha do 70 in a 45 on the way home from the theater. Mrs. Dell had to talk me off the accelerator. Thank goodness there were no cops around. I might have tried to outrun them because the movie got me THAT AMPED. Is it really a good movie? No, not by the standards us wannabe critics tend to hold movies to. By those standards, it’s downright horrible. That I can’t keep from being giddy while watching it means it’s so bad it’s awesome!
Potential Dellies Considerations: Best Action Sequence (NY Zombie Car Chase, Submarine Chase), Best Action Hero (Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson), Most So Bad It's Awesome, Best Overall Technical Achievement