A film review by Craig J. Koban April 23, 2017

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS jj

2017, PG-13, 136 mins.

 

Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto  /  Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs  /  Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw  /  Kurt Russell as Frank Petty / Mr. Nobody  /  Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz  /  Charlize Theron as Cipher  /  Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey  /  Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody  /  Helen Mirren as Magdalene Shaw  /  Elsa Pataky as Elena Neves  /  Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce  / Ludacris as Tej Parker

Written and directed by F. Gary Gray  /  Written by Chris Morgan

 

 

Remember way, way back in 2001 when the first FAST AND FURIOUS film was released, well before it improbably spawned seven sequels and grossed $4 billion in global ticket sales?  

Looking back it's quite amazing to consider that it was, for all intents and purposes, a not-so-subtle POINT BREAK knock-off about the underground world of street racing that involved crooks illegally racing their souped up muscle cars and imports when they weren't stealing DVD players.   

Watching the somewhat ridiculously titled THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS - or THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS 8 or FF8, whatever you prefer to call it - it's become clear that any modicum of gritty street level verisimilitude that the franchise's introductory entry had has given way to all out over-the-top ludicrousness.  THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is not so much a grounded action thriller as much as it is a logic and physics defying piece of pure science fiction...and that's not necessarily a criticism.  There's ample enjoyment to be had in watching this film - and the last few series entries that came before it - utterly embrace its most cartoonish elements, which I guess has allowed this franchise's unique brand of vehicular carnage and teeth clenched machismo to remain sustainable over 16 years.  THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS remains in the proud tradition of Cinema of Incredulity, or movies that celebrate their wanton and almost laughable on-screen absurdity like a badge of honor. 

 

 

After a brief period of franchise lethargy, along came FAST FIVE in 2011 to daringly, if not improbably, retrofit these films away from being street racing thrillers and into heist action flicks.  That bold move handsomely paid off, and the adventures of Dominic Torreto and company have not looked back since (that, and the series' popularity peaked with the tragic death of star Paul Walker, whose real life demise was dealt with in FURIOUS 7 in surprisingly tactful ways).  THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, once again, should be given props for at least trying to throw more storytelling curveballs at the franchise's legions of devotees, and at a time when most cinematic universes seem all but dead in the sequel water.  Unfortunately, for as much potentially intriguing narrative detours that THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS takes - and in particular with its poster boy hero - this resulting sequel seems to be leisurely spinning its wheels at bit too much for its own good and slavishly relying on old series formulas.   

After a spectacularly and engagingly silly prologue - set in Cuba during the honeymoon of Dom (Diesel) and Leti (Michelle Rodriguez) and culminating in the former winning a daring street race that reveals a staggering lack of police officers on the Havana streets - THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS thrusts viewers into an endlessly compelling plot twist that involves Dom - gasp! - turning on his wife and family and teaming up with a ruthless cyber terrorist named Cipher (zero originality points for that name...played by series newcomer Charlize Theron) that wishes to steal a nuclear bomb, its launch codes, and the "God's Eye" (an omnipotent surveillance piece of tech that figured heavily into the last film).  Not only does Dom betray Leti and his racing comrades in arms, but he does so by sucker punch turning on all of them during a very high stakes Diplomatic Security Service mission headed up by Hobbs (the hulking Dwayne Johnson).   

Predictably, Hobbs feels mightily betrayed, especially seeing as Dom nearly killed him in said double crossing incident.  The rest of Dom's old crew - Letti, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) - are struggling with the emotional weight of their once devoted leader turning evil.  Aided by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Hobbs and what remains of Dom's team begin scouring the globe for Dom and Cipher, and in the process recruit some very unlikely allies in the form of former arch enemy, now frenemy Deckard (Jason Statham), who has his own personal vendetta against Cipher. 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise has done a good job of injecting some fresh character meat into the stories as of late, and Charlize Theron's quietly menacing introduction as the extraordinarily dangerous Cipher is proof positive of this.  Hot off of her appearance in the action masterpiece MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (where she more than proved her genre street cred), Theron gives this sequel that jolt of unpredictable energy that it so desperately requires.  With her ice cold deadpan delivery, long blonde dreadlocks, and steely eyed poker face glare, Theron creates a credible baddie that plausibly comes off as having the upper hand over the gravel voiced and chiseled Dom.  Most action films are made or broken by the relative quality of the antagonists, but THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is on stellar footing whenever Theron occupies scenes. 

This series is also made or broken on its reliably consistent levels of unleashing jaw droppingly implausible action sequences that you can heartily laugh at and with.  There's a remarkably effective mid-way scene in New York that has Cipher hacking into what appears to be hundreds of smart cars, which she uses to attack the heroes like a swam of unstoppable automobile zombies (preposterous...yes...exhilarating...yes).  The film culminates in spectacularly nonsensical fashion in Russia, which involves a giant nuclear submarine, a tank, a Lamborghini, a vast sheet of ice and snow, and Hobbs deflecting a torpedo with his bare hands while driving in pursuit of Cipher and Dom.  Any semblance of realism has been cheekily abandoned with during this film's final act, which showcases cars doing things in arctic climates that are altogether laughably impossible.  Yet, to be fair, people see these films less for introspective character beats and more for watching its heroes do things with their cars and bodies that defies normal scientific understanding. 

Not all of the action in this film is big dumb fun, though.  Director F. Gary Gray (whom previously directed THE ITALIAN JOB - also with Statham and Theron - and last year's very decent music biopic STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) seems a bit of an ill fit overall for this franchise.  For as wickedly delightful as the aforementioned climax was to watch here, his handling of the smaller scale fight sequences (especially one set in a prison) is an editorial hatchet job that uses too many close ups and medium shots and too much frenetic camera movement to feel fluidly engaging.  He also doesn't handle THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS' conflicting tonal range well either, which may or may not have something to do with Chris Morgan's screenplay, which awkwardly tiptoes between self-serious sermonizing that takes itself as seriously as a heart attack with cars being incredulously used as projectile weapons.  It also doesn't help that the script flips a bird to franchise continuity.  Statham's Deckard has been previously established as a mass murdering psycho that brutally killed one key member of Dom's team...but here he's a likeable quip dispensing hooligan that works with the heroes.  Wait...what?! 

One area that THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS frustratingly drops the proverbial ball is in the whole tantalizing notion of turning its main hero into a bad guy.  There are so many potentially intriguing ways that Morgan and Gray could have dealt with this...and especially as an overarching story beat that could been the product of multiple films to come.  Instead of teasing audiences with putting together the salacious details and reasons for Dom's sudden and corrupt turn for the worst, THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS lays all of its narrative cards on the table and neatly wraps everything up well before the end credits roll by.  The juicy opportunities to explore Dom's descent into villainy and the mystery behind it are mightily squandered; when it's quickly revealed why he parted from his family and joined the ranks of a terrorist it rarely feels like a convincing enough rationale for this character, especially considering his past resolve. 

THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS is indeed bigger, dumber, and more ear splitting and eye pummeling than any previous entry; this franchise doesn't hide from what it is.  The film is indeed fun, but it's also fatiguing (at nearly two and half hours, its self indulgent length does the whole film an exhausting disservice).   Eight films in, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS cinematic universe is definitely not completely running out of gas, but it is creatively stalling, as is apparent in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS.   Maybe there's just so many ways that the makers here can shake and bake the conventions and troupes of this cash making movie empire.  There's a blueprint here for a genre busting original installment that hits the resourceful highs of FAST FIVE, but this sequel soft pedals its novel story twists and lacks confidence in using them to their fullest.  

But at least we have the sight of The Rock course correcting a nuclear sub's torpedo with his a wave of his bulging arm...so there's that. 

 

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