- By Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
“The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise — perhaps the most nakedly enjoyable action movie franchise of its epoch — inadvertently raises an important question: To what extent is this series indestructible?
Is there no insane plot hole, no overly expository chatter or generic action movie-ness that it cannot overcome through the timely application of a nitrous oxide canister and quick shot of clutch-shift-gas?
Because the will of the people will be tested verily in “The Fate of the Furious,” aka “F8,” easily the most generic entry in a series that had always been far smarter and sweeter than it first looked.
In theory, bringing in F. Gary Gray was a good idea. Gray had helmed both a savvy remake of “The Italian Job” (2003) and the NWA biopic “Straight Outta Compton” (2016), which seems like a perfect combination for a franchise that figured out faster than any other than the way to consistent box office gold in the 21st century was a cast that looked like (all of) America.
Except “F8” feels oddly conservative.
For example, there’s always been, at least since “Fast 5” — aka the one set in Brazil — an obligation to go bigger, both in size of vehicle on screen and level of heist. This is, of course, the nature of an action movie series, not to mention American capitalism in general. And it’s a bit churlish to ding a “Fast” movie for being too cartoonish.
But there is something about the combination of a nuclear submarine, evil hacker (Charlize Theron, who has that is-she-reading-her-lines-off-camera-or-refusing-to-make-eye-contact-because-evil-people-don’t-do-empathy thing down cold) and hardened crooks acting cute stuff that looks and feels like it could have come from any action movie made in the past 10 years.
Tom Cruise could suddenly be in one of these. This is not what one wants from a “Fast” movie.
Clocking in at a massive 136 minutes, “F8” does its level best to give a few beats to nearly every (currently living, in real life or the franchise) character around and manages to introduce a few new ones. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Otiz (Michelle Rodriguez, still looking in most shots as if she smells something horrible) are on their honeymoon in Cuba. Since no honeymoon involving these two would be without a stellar car race, we get one of those, easily the movie’s most satisfying moments involving vehicles.
Things seem to be coming up Toretto until he is confronted by the brilliant hacker Cipher, who shows Dom an image on a cellphone that prompts him to work for her. We don’t see it, but if you are thinking it’s one of the oldest movie-motive cliches there is, you are absolutely correct.
Said betrayal consists of getting the band back together (deep breath: Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel) to steal an EMP device, only to take the device for Cipher.
This lands Hobbs (Johnson) in the clink with old “Furious” baddie Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Will there be a jailbreak somewhere in this town? Oh, yes. Yes, there will.
After which it’s the proverbial race against time, as the team (reassembled by Kurt Russell) must find Dom — who is clearly doing all of this bad guy stuff against his will — and Cipher before she gets control of a bunch of nukes.
Yes, we have gone from this crew stealing cars in the first movie to stealing back nukes for the government in the most recent. Oy.
Lip service is paid to the traditional “Fast” beats — the importance of the family you chose, having a code, submarine-size plot holes, eating dinner outside. “F8” even treats the late Paul Walker’s character Brian as both dead and alive. The crew says they are refusing to call him or his wife Mia “for help,” but there is also a last scene reveal that scans as the most traditional kind of memorial.
This is less a “Fast” movie than A Summer Action Picture, and nobody looks like they’re having much fun (with the possible exception of Statham, whose big scene pulls the movie clear away from heist thriller into almost goofy action-comedy).
Rumors of on-set discord between Diesel and Johnson plagued this thing (which everyone could have seen coming, seeing as how one of these guys is an international movie star and the other is famous, at most, for captaining this here series).
Or maybe it’s just that every time we see a celebrity cameo or jailbreak or explosion, we’re not seeing a bunch of cars driving really fast, competing with each other. Can we have a little more of that in “F9”? We don’t need a submarine, I promise.