The Fate of the Furious: Film Review
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Luke Evans, Scott Eastwood, Michelle Rodriguez, Luadcris, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren
Director: F Gary Gray
There are certain things you expect from a Fast and Furious film.
From the shots of scantily clad girls gyrating in barely any clothing, lots of insane racing and endless speeches about family made throughout.
Pretty much all of those are present and correct in the eighth instalment of the franchise which shows no sense of dying.
But what's missing in this latest is a sense of soul and heart that's bound together the other films to varying degrees of success.
In Fate of the Furious, Vin Diesel's emoting potato of a folk hero Dom Toretto is forced to betray his crew and his family when braided cyber-terrorist Cypher (an icy Charlize Theron whose cold presence bodes well for the upcoming Atomic Blonde and who's likely to spawn several Fast and Furiosa memes) exerts some mysterious leverage over him.
Forced into the reality they've been betrayed by the one they trusted the most, Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs is compelled to assemble the usual good guys ( including an expanded role for Game Of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel's hacker) and some bad guys (hello, Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw imprisoned in Furious 7) to save the day.
Mixing in global terrorism, cyber-hacking and occasional set pieces with relative ease appear to be the MO for this latest Furious outing, but despite Straight Outta Compton helmer F Gary Gray's eye behind the lens, the whole thing feels like a flat formulaic piece of cinema when compared to some of the other outings for this franchise.
Granted, with its ACME style shenanigans and fights and car-flips where nobody ever emerges with the slightest hint of a cut or graze on their fetishized buff bodies, the Fast franchise has never aimed for the levels of Shakespearean dialogue or any attempts at a cerebral outing.
The usual reason to endure and enjoy one of these outings is in the spectacularly over-the-top stunt work and high-octane sequences - and in Fast 5, great amounts of heart and surprising humanity was fuel-injected into the characters. As one character says in The Fate Of The Furious: "It's not what's under the hood, it's about who's behind the wheel". And that motif certainly feels like it infects large swathes of this occasionally bloated and soulless action thriller, with the growing feeling that those in charge didn't really invest as much into the script as they should have.
The mid-section of the 2 hour 15 minute dumb beast is slowed by endless amounts of techno-banter masquerading as exposition and it almost cripples what you'd want from a film like this. After a thrilling street race in Havana, reminiscent of the very best of the Forza Horizon driving game series, which showcases both the best and worst of what the series offers (cliched dialogue, gyrating car bunnies and pacy well-choreographed but sensibly cut action), the film hits a speed bump after the introduction of self-assured Theron's Cipher.
Diesel is his usual monosyllabic gruff pouting self as Toretto, but this time, even Diesel struggles to reach the basic level of emotion needed to invest in the character's plight and his attempts at showing struggle and conflict come across as more a petulant teen outburst mixed with the emotional range of a potato. It's not his best charismatic work in the series as other entries will attest.
Fortunately, some of the slack is picked up by the usual charism of Dwayne Johnson, the man mountain who was brought on as a cop a few entrants back to track down Toretto. There's even a scene that will appeal to the home crowd as Johnson leads a female kids football team into a rousing haka pre-game (though, it does feel slightly odd and unexpected as a throwaway moment but it's good to see perhaps that his recent Moana outing's stirred up some sense of culture).
But the script confines most of Toretto's team to the sidelines, grounding their arcs in neutral rather than full-speed ahead - and even the banter between Ludacris' Tej and Tyrese Gibson's Roman is hit by a lack of under-writing.
However, all in all The Fate Of The Furious is stuffed to the gills and would have greatly benefited from an expeditious trim to make it leaner and more taut in its ultimate execution.
Set pieces within don't feel as exciting as they could be, and while there are moments, such as a World War Z style zombie car attack in New York (yes, that sentence was just written) that stand out, most of the action feels arbitrary and relatively unengaging.
Equally, the fact the cast of main actors, and their supporting charges, is growing to ever-increasing numbers doesn't help things. Its one more cameo mentality feels like a troupe of am dram players who are too afraid to sort the wheat from the chaff and whose numbers swell greatly with little to do; a culling of the Fast family would greatly enhance parts of this franchise and bring some much needed emotional range too.
Perhaps it's the fact that Fast 7's $1.5billion global box office take in wake of Paul Walker's death necessitated yet one more ride, even though thematically the narrative tank was empty and everything had been neatly resolved in the last, but The Fate of the Furious actually feels surplus to requirements in the series' canon.
While the precision of the action sequences is neatly handled by Gray as the lunacy and ridiculousness increases, climaxing with an ice-capade set to the backdrop of a Russian nuclear sub heist, it really doesn't feel like the emotional range needed to ground this dumb, bloated actioner is even close to hitting the spot.
The Fate Of The Furious is a lacklustre spectacle that feels constrained and that betrays some of the franchise's prior heart and soul in among the car-nage. It's perhaps the ultimate Easter treat - looks good, shiny and promises much, but in its centre, it's hollow and empty and you'll feel guilty as hell afterwards.
Watch it do absolutely insane numbers at the box office though - this has never, ever been a series which has pandered to the critical mass; it's more a demented extreme version of Top Gear for the masses, who'll lap up every second of its excess and ensure that come Diesel's retirement age, he'll be laughing all the way to the bank.