The latest installment in the critic-proof, snickering-producer Fast and the Furious franchise, The Fate of the Furious (a referentless title), has director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) taking the reins and spinning every moderately palatable note the series had to offer into a quagmire of audience-insulting drivel. That is, when it isn’t just self-mockery.
The crew is back together, once we get villainess Cipher (Charlize Theron) to rope Dom (Vin Diesel) into being on the wrong side events. There are fantastic schemes involved, which ultimately necessitates bringing Deckard back as well (because Jason Statham tested well). Beyond that, the plot summary/script that existed at the start of production was simply – Drive cars. Blow things up. Figure it out as you go.
Sure, there is an actual scheme, and Cipher has some actual leverage over Dom, but there aren’t two scenes in the film that actually connect, and the simplest of machinations are explained five times, often with pictures, because this is a film that is pretty sure it knows how smart its audience is. The only thing in the film that resembles work that requires an actual writer is the relationship trauma our events cause between Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It isn’t executed well, involves ridiculous dialog, and Rodriguez has never been so wooden, but it’s likely that writing took place. This, of course, as opposed to the rest of the films’, “Oh, you know, say something or whatever,” approach to scene construction.
What’s surprising about The Fate of the Furious is that this is a monumental step down from the thoroughly average, but rather fun efforts that exist, here and there, within the franchise. As I said, this is critic-proof cinema, because popcorn madness is all equal as far as that goes, but this is a franchise that at least used to put some effort into its characters, and had some limit on how ridiculous the action scenes could get. The last film’s car jump between buildings was already nonsensical… but, it was kind of awesome. That’s positively boring compared to this film. If it isn’t Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) snatching a torpedo and redirecting it with his bare hands, then it’s a drag race with a nuclear submarine (and an old, decommissioned one, by the way) that can go from 0-100+ mph in…, well, the timeframe is irrelevant really.
The one saving grace of the film is Jason Statham, unless you count his interplay with Dwayne Johnson as its own note worthy of mention. He takes over the screen whenever he shows up, and for those moments, you almost manage some hope that things will turn around. His ability to steal the effort away just makes the overall buffoonery stand out that much more, and makes you feel bad for Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, who aren’t even given enough lines to keep you from being surprised when they show up again.
As good as Statham is, and as much as someone actually paid attention to giving him some interesting lines, Theron is exactly that bad. Actually, her character is that bad. In a sense, Theron is unbelievably solid as an actress, because she’s doing exactly what she’s supposed to, and that is sort of the gig. Cipher is a hollow boogeyman that exists only because people fear, and don’t understand, anyone who is sufficiently talented with computers. She could easily have been written out altogether, replaced by some daffy image on a screen and a metallic voice. Her dialog is a kind of Ayn Rand-inspired backlash mixed with lazy ruminations on what movies have told us about lunatics and psychopaths over the years. She’d twirl her mustache at you, but she’s too busy outfoxing the Scooby gang. In one of the film’s best bits of cluelessness, she can’t manage to outfox them, despite their utter lack of worthwhile abilities, given that we’ve written driving out of the picture, except as a means of escape.
There’s a lot of legitimate fun to be had with action-fest, “the cast gets a vacation” films, but this one is so convinced that its audience won’t be able to find its way out of the theater unassisted that it doesn’t even try. Worst of all, it seems to have lost interest in cars and/or giving them a bit of a showcase. It almost begrudgingly throws in a scene in a backlot warehouse because, well, we did already cash that check from Bentley. They throw in a scene that features a wave of hacked cars swarming the streets, but that’s more of an anti-car effort and only exists because our research shows that at least 32% of the audience is going to jump up with, “I told you they could do that!”
We may not show up for rich, layered plots, or characters that make any sense beyond strutting around and taking off their shirts, but if we don’t even like cars anymore, what the hell are we doing here?