I found myself seeing the latest sequel to The Fast and the Furious on Easter Sunday, sitting next to Shea, my high school buddy. Shea loves to remind me that I took him to an early preview screening of the first movie in this series back in 2001. We were both living in Colorado at the time and attended a screening arranged by the studio meant to gauge the film’s box office prospects.
As Shea and I walked out of the first Vin Diesel/Paul Walker carjacking action extravaganza, I told him I didn’t think the movie would do well. I recall saying, “It may top out at $60 million, but c’mon, Shea, it’s a blatant rip-off of Point Break. There’s no way this movie will catch on.” Shea replied, “I think it’s going to be huge. I can see them making two or three sequels to this, maybe more. This could be like Star Wars with cars.” I told Shea he was nuts and reminded him that The Fast and the Furious was opening against Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which I predicted would be “huge.” Shea and I still laugh about this exchange, in which my predictions proved to be embarrassingly wrong, while he came across like a cinematic Nostradamus.
So, here we are, the eighth entry in this series. These dopey adventures haven’t lost any of their entertainment value, flamboyant showmanship or willingness to sacrifice logic and credibility in order to muster another potent thrill.
This time, Dominic Toretto (played by Diesel) “goes rogue” by turning his back on his loyal crew and instead goes to work for a dangerous cyber criminal named Cypher (played by Charlize Theron). Toretto’s former colleagues, including the nutty Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), pursue him and try to figure out why he changed sides and abandoned his “family” ethics.
Diesel is also one of the film’s producers and, of all things, uses this as an acting showcase for himself. The former “Riddick” has several big scenes here, where he yells, cries and shouts dramatically (you know, Oscar clip fodder). It was a big mistake on his part, as this is not the kind of movie where you show the world your inner Meryl Streep.
On the other hand, Theron makes her ice-cold psychopath truly eerie, though she (and everyone else) go monstrously over the top during the finale. Of course, it’s not all bad–Jason Statham hasn’t been this charming in ages, Scott Eastwood is a good addition to the ensemble and Johnson tosses out WWE-ready insults like a champ. That said, the scene referencing Johnson’s Samoan lineage is embarrassing (and a better fit for a Ladybugs remake), but the nod to his 2014 Hercules is perfect.
Fate has the same problem as the prior Furious 7: it peaks in the second act, then exhausts audiences with an overly busy wrap-up. Nothing in Furious 7 could top the awesome sight of cars flying through buildings and, in the same way, nothing here matches the spectacle of the New York set piece. This sequence, which has enough vehicular stunt work and smash-ups to rival The Blues Brothers, is a sensational jaw-dropper.
Far less stellar is the screenplay, which unveils a story that will never leave the audience guessing. While there are fun cameo appearances and respectful references to Walker’s departed character, the only real surprises come from how ridiculous it gets.
F. Gary Gray, who helmed Friday, the 2003 The Italian Job and the recent Straight Outta Compton, directed this. Memories of his terrific Set It Off are a reminder that he’s always been skillful at staging action. What he can’t do is add anything new to a franchise that’s already on auto-pilot. What can you say about a movie in which presumably thousands of people die bloodlessly but, absurdly always ends with Diesel throwing a barbecue? Everything about Fate feels like a self parody, which is fitting, as nothing here could ever be taken seriously. These movies remain fast, furious and ludicrous.
Two and a Half Stars