Knocking a “Fast and Furious” movie for being unrealistic is a little like ripping “The Boss Baby” for its misleading portrait of a talking infant in a business suit.
In both cases, we’re talking about cartoons.
Still, some cartoons resonate more forcefully than others.
The original “The Fast and the Furious” (released 16 years ago if you can believe it), which was based on an article in Vibe magazine about street racing clubs, was grounded in something at least resembling reality. But as the sequels piled up and the franchise grew into a multi-billion dollar property, the plots and the stunts have grown increasingly more ludicrous, to the point where even some of the Avengers would say, “Come on. That could NEVER happen.”
In “The Fate of the Furious,” our heroes walk away from crashes and explosions that would put Captain America on the disabled list. Cars fly through the air as if they have wings. And dozens of enemy combatants armed to the teeth conveniently surface out of nowhere whenever the screenplay calls for an extended action sequence.
Fine, that’s all to be expected. The problem this time around is the plot is particularly idiotic, the supposedly snappy quips are lame and come at some weirdly inappropriate moments — and it’s all delivered in an extremely bloated package.
“The Fate of the Furious” clocks in at a snail-like two hours and 16 minutes, proving you can rev your engines and spin your wheels all over the planet, and yet still move at a snail’s pace. Fast and Furious? More like Slow and Ponderous. At some point we’re just numb to the noise.
We kick off the action in Havana, which according to this movie is populated almost entirely by gorgeous women in skimpy clothes and hunky guys fixing up their street rods. Vin Diesel’s Dom is on his honeymoon with Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty, but it doesn’t take long for Dom to find himself in an insanely dangerous drag race that endangers hundreds of lives, but who cares about all those innocent extras anyway?
The following morning, Dom is coming back from the grocery store (yes, there’s an obligatory loaf of French bread sticking out from the bag) when he encounters Charlize Theron’s Cipher, a cold and vicious and legendary cyber-terrorist who wears very long braided hair and speaks like a Bond villain. Cipher’s got the goods on Dom and forces him to come to work for her, on the spot.
Just like that, Dom is helping Cipher in her evil plan to gain evil control of the world in a very evil way, so she can continue to be the most evil villain on the planet! (Theron is a lot of fun as the evil Cipher, even though we never even get a hint of why this smart, funny, fashionable, fantastic-looking woman is so angry at the world. She looks like she should be hosting a travel show.)
So now Dom’s the bad guy, but Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw has switched sides from the villains to the heroes, and Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs is a good guy but he winds up in prison, and the good guys and bad guys have switched sides so many times in this franchise it’s enough to give your brain a flat tire.
The clunky script calls for returning regulars such as Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges’ Parker and Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody (that’s actually his character’s name) to dis each other and crack one-liners arbitrarily.
Moments after Dom has gone rogue and apparently wants to kill them, they’re making jokes. As they’re racing through the streets of New York City or skidding along the ice in Russia, killing bad guys and narrowly avoiding getting killed themselves, they’re crackin’ wise. Even within this ludicrous universe, it’s jarring to hear these supposedly smart folks, who refer to themselves as “family,” acting like idiots who don’t seem to care if they live or die, or if their friends survive.
There’s no denying the likability of the cast. Diesel still has the range of a hippo in the sun, but I’d rather watch him as Dom than that Xander Cage goof or in (God forbid) in anything serious. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have a few good scenes as rivals turned comrades. Helen Mirren shows up in a few scenes, does a downscale British accent and scores one big laugh. Every time Kurt Russell enters a scene, he elevates the movie because he’s Kurt Russell.
The speechmaking from Dom and others about the importance of family is beyond tired at this point. The use of a baby as a comedic prop isn’t nearly as funny as the filmmakers seem to think it is. And of course the ending leaves plenty of room for another sequel, and another, and another …
One of these decades, Dom and company will be saving the world in turbo-powered wheelchairs.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan. Rated PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language). Running time: 136 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.