'The Fate of the Furious'
Crack a Corona, snort some NOS, and do whatever else it takes to kill some brain cells because the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise is back! It’s been two long years since ‘Furious 7’, and thanks to that movie making $1.5 billion worldwide (that’s right), the series is bigger and dumber than ever in its eighth (!) chapter.
Sixteen long, hard years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a lowish budgeted B-movie about the vaguely homoerotic relationship between two street racers would not only still be going strong today, but would blossom into one of the biggest movie franchises on the planet. In that time, the street racers grew into international heist specialists and then into a secret government agents. Now they’re essentially a team of working class James Bonds. With the penis-shaped trio of Vin Diesel, The Rock and Jason Statham leading the chase, ‘The Fate of the Furious’ arrives as what is surely to be the biggest and dumbest blockbuster of the year. Thankfully, it’s also a supremely satisfying slice of cinematic stupidity.
Things start off exactly like you’d expect, with a series of landscapes and shots of cars and/or booties. Dom (Diesel) is now in Cuba, where he wins a race and makes a friend. His love with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is stronger than ever now that her two-film amnesia trip is over. Unfortunately, something is rotten in the state of Dieselmark. Charlize Theron and a horrible wig have some blackmail information that will force the world’s most famous family man to betray (wait for it) his family!
I know, it’s hard to believe. It’s also tough to take. Imagine how Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and the good sexy hacker Nathalie Emmanuel feel! Fortunately, The Rock and Kurt Russell are on hand to step in as father figures and bring the team together to take Dom down. Kurt even insists that the last movie’s villain (Statham) and Scott Eastwood join the team, because why not? That’s a tough pill for The Rock to swallow. Fortunately, Dwayne Johnson can smell what The Stath is cooking: friendship. Let the battle of the shaved heads begin!
With a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of ‘Avatar’, ‘The Fate of the Furious’ explodes onto screens with a series of set-pieces so gigantic that the only possible response is slack-jawed awe. New York streets are turned into a battleground of drone car pile-ups. Cuba is rocked with a flaming drag race. Russia sees the submarine vs. race car battle that cinema was invented for. One after another, director F. Gary Gray (‘Straight Outta Compton’, ‘The Italian Job’) fills the screen with Hot Wheels pile-ups the likes of which hyperactive children dream about while playing in sandboxes. That’s the appeal of this series – taking the cinematic staple of the car chase and blowing it up to such an insane degree that audiences are pummeled into submission.
Since ‘Fast Five’, the series has been desperately trying to top itself. While this eightquel might rely a bit more on CGI than previous chapters, it also doubles down on fight scenes, including a beauty of a prison break in which The Stath and The Rock make friends while the former bounces around like a kung-fu master and the latter acts like the human Hulk he’s always been. It’s a rush of candy-colored nonsense that barely gives viewers a chance to catch their breaths, and it’s hard to believe the full summer of blockbuster spectacle to come will manage to top the insanity laid out for IMAX screens here.
Of course, these movies also require scenes of characters speaking between explosions. These are rarely highlights of the Double-F movies since they tend not to be either fast or furious. This time, the movie has a director with some comedy background (‘Friday’), so the sense of winking irony that’s been slithering into the series since ‘Fast Five’ grows perhaps a little too much for comfort. Campy action movie crap like ‘The Fast and the Furious’ works best when done sincerely enough to transform into accidental comedy. When the schlock slingers in charge get too self-aware, the magic is lost. There are times when F. Gary Gray encourages a little bit too much knowing comedy, but for the most part the flick is a riot.
The most self-aware performers on display are The Rock, The Stath and The Kurt (with a special shout-out needed for a Cockney edition of Helen Mirren who will hopefully be a franchise staple from here on out). All three are clearly having a blast, yet also realize the delicate ironic balance required. They make jokes, but mostly deadpan through their finest schlock (like when The Rock coaches a kiddie soccer match or The Stath kills a bunch of baddies while cradling a baby a la ‘Hard Boiled’).
Vin Diesel is once again seemingly unaware that no one takes this nonsense seriously. He somehow squeezes a tear out of his face and screams to the heavens. It’s pretty special. He means well. Charlize Theron is stuck in a thankless villainess role that mostly relegates her to glowering at computer screens, but she at least finds a nice vamping tone. Michelle Rodriguez gets the most to do in this film than she has in many a ‘FF’ romp and delivers the goods. She’s a fantastic action star with the dramatic chops to pull off this sub-soap melodrama without embarrassing herself. It’s pretty impressive, really. As for the rest of the Fast Family? Well, they’re all here and get a few choice one-liners, but to be honest this cast is starting to get a little too big for its own good.
Once again recapturing the magical mixture of slapstick car carnage and batshit family soap opera silliness, ‘The Fate of the Furious’ is the biggest, dumbest guilty pleasure shat out by the studio system since… well, since the last one of these. Some might complain that it’s a step back from ‘Furious 7’ after the unexpected emotional pull that the departure of Paul Walker provided. That’s a reasonable complaint, but honestly, weepy finales aren’t what I personally show up to a ‘Fast and Furious’ flick to experience. The good news is that this movie is as gigantic, stupid, loud and ludicrous as a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie needs to be. The action is glorious, the action figure stars are delightful, the pacing is relentless, and the laughs (intended or otherwise) never stop coming.
There will undoubtedly be more meaningful and satisfying blockbusters splashed across screens as the summer movie season takes over multiplexes, but none will be this magnificently stupid. The ‘Fast and Furious’ series holds a special place in contemporary Hollywood. Against all odds, there seems to be enough gas left in this tank to stretch the series out to ten chapters as planned. Let’s just hope that the producers know how necessary it is that Nicolas Cage pop up as the Big Bad in time for the grand finale. He’s the only missing ingredient in this high note of low art. Make it so, Hollywood.