FAST X ½
2023, PG-13, 142 mins.
Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto / Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz / Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce / Ludacris as Tej Parker / Jason Momoa as Dante Reyes / Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey / Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto / John Cena as Jakob Toretto / Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw / Sung Kang as Han Lue / Alan Ritchson as Agent Aimes / Daniela Melchior as Isabel / Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody / Helen Mirren as Magdalene 'Queenie' Shaw / Charlize Theron as Cipher / Brie Larson as Tess / Rita Moreno as Abuelita TorettoDirected by Louis Leterrier / Written by Justin Lin and Dan Mazeau
I cannot believe that we've made it to TEN (count 'em...TEN!!!) entries in the FAST AND FURIOUS series.
Where has the time gone?
It's almost unfathomable to think that this once simple, but effective POINT BREAK clone from 22 year years ago began so modestly as a tale of underground street racers and DVD player thieves.
Over the course of the last two decades, the exploits of Dominic Toretto and his "family" have seen crazy levels of unpredictable evolution, with each sequel - some great, some good, and some not so good - finding ways of upping the ante of ridiculous stunts and action set pieces. The high point for me was easily FAST FIVE, which had no business being as good as it was as far as fifth films in a series go. It also began a rebirth of this franchise towards globe trotting espionage (yeah, sounds wacky, but it worked). The juiced up nuttiness of this series reached levels of almost self-parody with the last film, F9, which I would argue started to show storytelling fatigue and desperation. Still, even the series apologist in me had to concede that - nine films in - these FAST AND FURIOUS entries still found a way of sustaining themselves and generating fan interest.
FAST X is apparently part of a multi-part finale (yeah...I'll believe that when I see it!) that hopes to bring this series to a sense of closure. It should be noted that the production of this sequel was not without behind-the-scenes drama, with franchise mainstay director Justin Lin (who made FAST FIVE and F9) set to make a return, but early into production he abruptly left citing creative difficulties (he still writes and produces, though). Replacing him is series newcomer Louis Leterrier (THE TRANSPORTER series and THE INCREDIBLE HULK), who had the daunting task of taking over a reported $350 million budgeted production (making it one of the most expensive films ever).
To say that this is a problematic film
that made for a dizzying experience at the movies is an understatement.
So, since this is the tenth F&F film, I thought that it would be
fitting to make a bullet point list of ten key takeaways that would
help sum up my thoughts:
I. Its plot borrows heavily from events from the best franchise entry - FAST FIVE (that's a double edged sword).
Instead of moving forward, FAST X moves backwards and to the events of FAST FIVE, with its introductory sequence re-visting the remarkable finale of that film, which had Dominic (Vin Diesel) and his squad successfully stealing a giant safe from the villainous Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almedia). You may also fondly remember how Dom and company attached said safe with chains to their muscle cars and literally drove off with it, destroying parts of Rio in the process (it remains one of the best sustained action beats in the series). During this chase, Reyes is killed...but...wait a tick...he actually had a son in Dante (Jason Momoa), a character that never actually appeared in FAST FIVE, but has been retroactively inserted into the events. Like most sons of powerful evildoers, Dante wants revenge on Dom's "family", comprised of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Han (Sung Kang), and Tej (Ludacris).
Dante's master plan is an inspired one: He frames this crew as terrorists that try to nuke Rome (more on that in a bit), which leads to this family going on the run and trying to clear their names. Dante wants to make Dom pay and pay dearly and even sets his sights on Dom's son, Brian (Leo Abelo Perry). Assisting Dom is the daughter of Mr. Nobody (who's bizarrely absent here), Tess (Brie Larson), who works for "The Agency" and butts heads her superior, Aimes (Alan Richardson). Oh, that dastardly Cipher (Charlize Theron) has returned, but has had an allegiance shift (there's always some of those in these films). And speaking of allegiance shifts, Dom's brother that wanted him dead in the last film is also back. Jakob (Jon Cena) is now in protector mode and assigned to his nephew Brian. He has been rebuilt as a kooky uncle with a cheerful disposition and a wise crack for any occasion. Yeah, a pretty far cry away from the murderous madman that he played before.
II. Jason Momoa almost saves this film.
actor is arguably the only performer in FAST X that seems to be having any
level of spirited fun. Dante might be one of the more openly flamboyant
and theatrical villains to ever grace one of these films, and it certainly
appears that Momoa has been given absolute carte blanche to go as big and
broad as he wants to here. He's such a deranged and frothing at the
mouth madman - and entertainingly so - that it's a nice compliment to the
sheer and unbridled chaos of this sequel, but it does have the negative
side effect of making the stoic Diesel come off as more one-note and
robotic than ever. I've always found Diesel to be perfectly serviceable
throughout this series, but with sequel after sequel this hero has morphed
into superhuman and hard to believe outlandishness...and his performance
has not evolved with it. Diesel treats FAST X as serious as a heart
attack, which makes the film easy to laugh at, whereas Momoa understands
what kind of loony film he's occupying, making it easy to laugh with him.
III. The entire cast (sans Momoa) is on pure autopilot here.
Perhaps more than ever before, the ensemble here seems to be just lazily going through the motions. Roman and Tej's once humorous and welcome shtick becomes more than a bit grating here, with poor Ramsey being forced to play peacemaker between these two constantly bickering bros. Cena's character transformation and turn in this sequel makes no logical sense whatsoever, and his overall personality change makes this go-around feel like he has been plucked from a whole different Cena-led action comedy altogether. Jakob gets to go on one of the most bizarre family road trips in movie history with Dom's son to keep him away from Dante's goon squad. And as for this kid, he has got to be one of the most hilariously indestructible kids I've ever witnessed in a blockbuster film. Brian has gone from a baby to a toddler and now to a pre-pubescent dude in this entry. He shares his papa's obsession with American muscle cars and his hard-to-match ability at not showing fear and staving off death. Like...nothing phases this child. He never cries once. He's essentially reduced to reacting to the film's cockamamie events with wide eyes and his mouth fully open...and not much else.
I'll give props, though, to Rodriguez and Theron, who are inexplicably paired together during one extended subplot and even engage in one of the film's more brutally effective fist fights. The F&F films have been pretty fair and democratic in allowing its female characters to get as down and dirty as its male ones.
IV. There's simply too much going on in this film.
FAST X commits the ultimate sequel sin of confusing quantity with quality. The storyline here has far too many needless twists, turns, and, yes, characters for its own good, which has the damning effect of making this whole enterprise feel needlessly bloated. Oscar winner Larson in particular is giving a real nothing bit part here as Mr. Nobody's daughter (the film never really plausibly explains his absence), not to mention that she's really stiff and mannered in the part. Alan Ritchson brings his bulky frame for his part of new Agency head honcho, but he's more or less of a simplistic plot device used to create more tension for Dom's team. More than in any other F&F film before, this one's new roster additions feel totally uninspired.
V. It contains some of the most absurd moments in series history.
I'm not sure if this should be considered a criticism or a compliment.
To be fair, FAST X has one somewhat grounded sequence involving a street race (remember when this series was all about that!) in the streets of Rio. Alas, for every scene that tries to adhere to the normal planes of reality, there are countless others that hurtle straight up into the stratosphere of pure nonsensical nuttiness. Take one howler of a sequence that involves Dom trying to use his car to stop a gigantic nuke that's bouncing through the streets of Rome like a tennis ball. Later, when the bomb goes off (mostly under water) and causes structural damage (but no human casualties), Dom becomes the prime suspect and most wanted man in the world, but he still has time to do an awesome pose in front of the Coliseum...one of the most sought after tourist attractions in the land and the last place a wanted fugitive would want to be seen. There's also a beyond silly moment with two planes harpooning Dom's car, but he dispenses with both of them through the power of American muscle. My favourite head shaking moment in FAST X easily involves him lifting a car with one hand while shooting a gun with the other. Later, he uses a car door as an improvised shield. And even later in the film, Dom (with his indestructible son) drives straight down a steep dam well and survives a massive explosion unscathed.
This is the closest that Dom comes to being a full-on super hero in this series, capable of feats well beyond mortal men. However, the actor never seems in on the joke.
VI. This is one of the most ear-splitting loud films I've ever experienced.
I usually don't tend to complain about the audible volume of soundtracks in cinemas. Hell, I love my home theater and joyously crank it up to level 11 when I can. But FAST X is numbingly and punishingly loud on the old ear canals. And there are so few moments of quiet relief to be had here. If you want to sit through a 141 minute movie and come out deaf....you're in for a treat here. It's merciless. Michael Bay would approve.
VII. This tenth film shows creative desperation more than any others before it.
One thing that FAST X does - to its detriment - is to constantly remind viewers what a high benchmark work FAST FIVE was, and because this new story re-appropriates story beats from that sequel, it becomes hard to shake. Every sequel that has come out in FAST FIVE'S wake has been a slow moving train of diminishing qualitative returns. Each one has become a bit more repetitive and - ahem! - spinning its narrative wheels too much for its own good. FAST X aims for plot progression and moving these characters and predicaments forward, but it lazily hits the breaks and looks back in the rear-view mirror for innovation. The F&F franchise has become almost too cartoony for its own good, which means that stakes and tension are all but null and void here. You never once feel any level of danger for these characters...ever.
VIII. The ending is a total cop-out.
Actually, FAST X doesn't even have an ending. It has a beginning, middle...and...that's it. It reaches a would-be shocking cliffhanger that no one in my screening was even remotely satisfied with...and then it cuts to the end credits. Wow. This is the least complete F&F movie of the lot. I don't have a problem with sequels putting characters through the ringer and ending on a dark and ambiguous note. Characters are left at the end here either in near-death states or presumed dead. Do I think that the makers here will commit to the raw finality with some of these characters? Hell no. I rarely leave a F&F film angry, but I was pretty damn close here. I just wanted to throw my hands in the air in stunned disbelief and scream at the screen "That's it after two and a half hours?!"
IX. This sequel has no business being two and a half hours of teases with no payoffs.
I'll leave it at that.
X. This is the most boring franchise entry yet.
That is a descriptor I have never used against this series before. But...seriously...I checked my watch a lot during my screening. FAST X is like an obligatory greatest hits package of series troupes...and not much else. Yes, it includes a throw caution to the wind Momoa hamming it up with glee as his effeminate glam rock-inspired baddie, but beyond momentary flashes of character novelty, we just get more of the same: more car chases (with even more distracting CG augmentations than ever before), more country hopping, more platitudes about family, and more noise and mayhem, but nothing in the area of revitalizing newness. Maybe I'm expecting way, way too much in this franchise, ten films in. I dunno. I just didn't care this time, despite everyone in this film literally turning to the audience and pathetically asking us to care. At one inane and potentially deadly moment, one character pleads with Dom that "he's done everything he could" to avoid catastrophe, to which he monosyllabically deadpans "Not everything."
This tenth film throws everything but the kitchen sink at viewers, but it's not fast, nor is it furious, and it doesn't do nearly enough to maintain my interest in it. This is the cinematic equivalent of running on fumes, and maybe - just maybe - it's time for the F&F series to park in the garage, put a tarp over itself, and end this ride that began in 2001.