Mark Reviews Movies

The Fate of the Furious


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Charlize Theron, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Kristofer Hivju, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 4/14/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 13, 2017

The central appeal of the Fast and/or Furious movies is twofold: the broad characters who, over the years, have formed a makeshift family unit and the over-the-top action sequences, which routinely defy physics and logic, because such things are an anathema to spectacle. The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in a franchise that seems incapable of quitting (even after it was ahead with the previous entry), betrays both parts of that appeal. This isn't the worst of these movies, but it might be the most generic of the bunch.

The characters are betrayed by a plot that, once again, matters more than anything else here. It's a simple but convoluted and rambling affair about a cyber-terrorist's elaborate plan to obtain weapons of mass destruction in order to achieve a vague goal. This is more or less the standard for these movies, but this time around, the major wrench in the works for the characters is that they have lost their leader.

Yes, Dom (Vin Diesel) has, for all appearances, betrayed his makeshift family and joined the main baddie, who's played by Charlize Theron with a recognition that her character's dreadlocked hairdo is the most interesting thing about her. Dom's reason, ironically, is familyónamely a family of convenience that springs up out of nowhere to rationalize Dom's behavior.

It's a fine dilemma for Dom, who has some obvious internal conflict about the matter: Does he betray one family unit in order to save another, or does he stick it out with the family that has come to define him, leaving the previously unknown family's fate to the whims of a diabolical woman? Since this is a movie about characters who primarily exist to get into wild car chases and ridiculous vehicular stunts, it should come as no surprise that there really isn't much of a conflict here.

Dom, like the other characters, is merely a pawn, going along for the ride because that's what the plot demands. His role doesn't change much, except that he's absent from the hero team's bickering and bantering. It's an absence that makes the camaraderie of the team a non-starter in this entry.

It's a funny thing that the lack of one one-dimensional character can have such an impact on the interactions of a group of other one-or-less-dimensional characters. It does, though, and there's no one else to fill the void.

It's certainly not Dom's now-wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), whom Dom leaves while on their honeymoon in Havana (which plays like an ad for Cuba's Ministry of Tourism, even with a harebrained race that results in Dom driving a flaming car in reverse). She's too broadly upset about Dom's apparent betrayal to do much of anything here.

It's not Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the cop-turned-criminal-turned-secret-agent, who receives an assignment to steal an EMP weapon in Berlin for the U.S. government. Dom steals the EMP from the team, sending Hobbs to prison, where he encounters the previous film's main bad guy Deckard (Jason Statham). That means it's not Deckard's role to fill, either, because both Hobbs and Deckard are too busy with their own pissing contest to do much of anything else.

Surely it's neither Roman (Tyrese Gibson) nor Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), the comic relief of the group whose jokes are overshadowed this time around by an abundance of exposition. Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a hacker who's newest to the team, has computer stuff to occupy her time, and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, clearly showing up whenever his schedule allows), the head of a super-secret spy outfit, has passed on his duties to Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood).

This is an unexpected miscalculation on the part of screenwriter Chris Morgan, who's at least trying something a bit different here. It comes at the expense of the one constant that made even the worst of the movies bearableónamely, the sense of enjoyment the actors were having in between the beats of the plot.

That leaves the action sequences, which are few and far between in this installment. When they arrive, they are, at best, perfunctory. The heist of the EMP begins in the middle of the theft, and the sequence expects us to be happy about the fact that the team murders about a dozen security guards and cops with a wrecking ball (The series has always had little concern for innocent victims of its vehicular mayhem, but some of this seems gleefully nasty, such as a shootout in which a character has to balance a baby while killing).

There are some fights (A prison escape is amusing for the sight of Johnson tossing guards like rag dolls) and a few chases. None of them is particularly memorable, save for one pursuit on a frozen lake in Russia. That's memorable mostly because of the setting. It's certainly not on account of the appearance of a nuclear submarine, leading director F. Gary Gray to shoot the sequence with an unfortunate fascination on the sight of churning ice.

These movies undoubtedly will continue until every vehicle in the world is put on display. If that is to be case, future installments would be better served by following the template of outlandish fun in the previous film, not the by-the-numbers routine of The Fate of the Furious.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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