Saturday, April 22, 2017

"The Fate of the Furious" - Running Out of Gas, but Will Probably Get You Where You Wanna Go

The Fast/Furious franchise has come a looooong way since its 2001 debut.  What started out as a sorta-cool B-movie-type crime thriller about fast cars, loud music and tough guys in Los Angeles has become a globe-trotting, Bond/Bourne-type spy/heist franchise with a growing group of guys (and girls) working with shadowy government agencies to battle international criminals.  Well, I’m a guy, and I like cars, girls, explosions and heist movies, so while I’ve never been a HUGE fan of this series, for a variety of reasons and circumstances, I’ve seen all of them in a theater, save for the last one.  Whatta ya know, another Friday night rolls around, and it’s this or the Beauty and the Beast remake, so the Big-and-Noisy option wins.  Here we go...

The Fate of the Furious catches up with Dom and Letty (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon in Havana, but their getaway is cut short when a mysteroius woman (Charlize Theron) tracks down Dom and makes him an offer than her can't (or is unable to) refuse. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) calls all the old crew in to help with a top secret government operation in Berlin, Dom is forced to turn his back on his team as he gets caught up in the world of cyber-terrorism. Hobbs goes to jail. Letty snaps defiantly at everyone. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson keep talking lots of smack to each other. More car chases, more property damage, more complete disregard for the laws of physics, a Russian nuclear attack sub, and two hours and fifteen minutes later, our multi-ethnic band is back at the dinner table, dropping hints about a ninth movie that is already scheduled for April of 2019.

There is a pact action movies (and action sequels in particular) make with their audience: accept the rules being bent now and again, and in exchange, you’ll receive elevated payoff that will at least FEEL logical.  What sets The Fate of the Furious apart from most other action movies is that it doesn’t bend the rules at the climax; rather, it breaks them immediately in the opening sequence.  Right from the start, we know that absolutely anything goes, and it just gets more ridiculous from there.  There is only one law of physics in this world: our heroes must succeed.  If Vin Diesel must win a race, a car will go faster in reverse than in Drive after doing a 180-degree spin, and throwing one’s self from that moving, flaming vehicle will result in no more personal injury than smudged slacks.  If a submarine must leave a completely-empty dry dock into open sea within ninety seconds, then so be it.  If we require a fleet of driverless vehicles to be operated from a single remote point of control, then cross-software platform compatibility problems be damned.  Okay, maybe that last one is getting a little picky, but you get my point...

The film is at its best when stripping out emotion altogether and just gearing up for fun, but even that aspect of the movie falls short of its predecessors - Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are an entertaining duo, incessantly attempting to one-up one another as they’re forced to work together, but I didn’t buy the speed of their enemy-turned-buddy relationship.  Kurt Russell is also back as shady government spook Mr. Nobody (in what is basically an extended cameo), and we’ve added Scott Eastwood to operate as his apprentice.  Eastwood hasn’t exactly had a spectacular career to date (probably best known for being the movie hunk in Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video three years ago), and his character here is pretty much a waste of space and dialogue, really only serving as the butt of two or three of Tyrese Gibson’s one-liners.

The Fate of the Furious may prove that the franchise is at least in fighting form financially at an inconceivable number eight despite the storytelling shortcomings, but that being said, what was innovative and daringly off-the-wall in Fast Five and Furious 6 – and even Furious 7 with its skyscraper-destroying antics – feels a little more pedestrian this time around.  It’s not so much a case of the returns diminishing, but that the series feels so sure of itself at this point that the nutty luster of the last few instalments just doesn’t feel quite so fresh.  Perhaps The Rock soccer-kicking a torpedo into a moving vehicle was supposed to be the newest “wow” moment, but by the time we got to that particular physically-impossible moment, I was sorta past the point of being “wowed.”

The Fate of the Furious is exactly what it aims to be, no more and no less, and I give the filmmakers credit for that.  This movie was never going to reach the emotional heights of Furious 7, and it was never going to bring something fresh to the genre.  It is a relatively-fun experience, but ultimately it’s a flashy, forgettable movie that’s best experienced with the largest tub o' popcorn and tallest Coke Icee the concession stand will sell you.