The Fate of the Furious (F. Gary Gray, 2017) 1 out of 4 stars.
Is this film worth reviewing? As the eighth in a heretofore lucrative series – which began in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious – it’s probably critic-proof. Those who have journeyed along since the beginning, joined and caught up since then, or just jumped aboard the caravan with the last film, Furious 7 (the highest earner, to date, of the bunch), are all probably going to go see The Fate of the Furious, irrespective of what I or any other film critic has to say. That’s often how franchises work, pulling in spectators with hyped-up brand pre-awareness. Still, goods must be delivered, even to fans, and I’m here to tell you that movie #8 does not deliver. Forget dumb fun; it’s just dumb.
There are the occasional moments of creative mayhem, but director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) too often overwhelms the creativity with said mayhem. More explosions do not a better action sequence make (there is one nicely staged fight scene in a prison that surprised me, however). I will admit, having never managed to sit through an entire entry in the series before, that I am not the target audience, but at least what I had previously seen was well-choreographed. Having recently watched Edgar Wright’s upcoming masterful car-chase film Baby Driver at the SXSW Festival, I had, perhaps, expectations of brilliant mise-en-scène, which were not matched, nor even glimpsed from afar. Still, the boys (and two girls) are back, with some new villains to oppose them, and so that might be enough to rake in the bucks.
Returning are Vin Diesel (Riddick, for my money his more interesting series), Michelle Rodriguez (Machete Kills), Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), actor/singer Tyrese Gibson (Black Nativity), actor/rapper Ludacris (No Strings Attached) and Nathalie Emmanuel (Twenty8k). Only Diesel and Rodriguez have starred since inception: Gibson and Ludacris were added in the second film, Johnson came aboard in #5, and Emmanuel in #7. Jason Statham (Spy), a villain last time, is back in a more flexible role. The big addition is Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), who replaces Statham as the baddie. As an actress, she certainly is capable of oozing evil charm (see Snow White and the Hunstman), but she is here saddled with such obviously nefarious lines that we keep on expecting her to cackle on delivery. In today’s politically sexist climate, I would never want to tell a woman to shut up, yet all I could think whenever Theron was on screen was, “Please, stop talking” (or find a better screenwriter).
What plot there is defies easy explanation. No, that’s not true. There’s stuff the team must get, and the only way to get it is to drive fast, shoot a lot of people (so much collateral damage!), and then evade capture and death in ever-more ludicrous situations. That’s easy. What’s hard is explaining the logic of it, how A leads to B, all the way to Z, without the rest of the letters rising up in narrative revolt. The central conflict centers around Dom (Diesel), who is forced to work against his comrades for reasons that remain murky until halfway through, and which probably could have been circumvented had he chosen to discuss them with his wife (Rodriguez) and friends, rather than set his jaw firmly and drive on. None of any of that would matter, however, if the action were at all appealing. Isn’t that the point of these movies? Fast … and furious? More like boring and irritating. Can’t wait for #9 …