By Bob Garver
For over a decade, you knew exactly what you were getting with a "Fast & Furious" movie. You went to see one of these movies, you got fast cars, gratuitous shots of women, dumb one-liners, ruminations on family during the slow parts, and completely implausible action sequences. The movies were fun if you were in the right mood and grating if you weren't, but they never aspired to be anything more.
Then things changed with "Furious 7" in 2015. Star Paul Walker died unexpectedly in a car crash, and although he had already filmed most of his scenes, the film needed to be handled with the utmost care and sensitivity. And it delivered perfectly. The final moments of that film were so beautiful that they took the franchise to a level never before thought possible. Now comes "The Fate of the Furious" to put it right back on the level it was before. Maybe even a little lower.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on his honeymoon with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when he's recruited for a black ops mission by his old-enemy-turned-friend Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). He gathers his family, which also includes Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). The family pulls off a heist with relative smoothness, but then Dom does the unthinkable and turns on his family. He puts the deadly device du jour in the hands of cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who has another member of his family in danger. He works for her now, and stealing the device was just the first job of many.
It's up to the rest of the family to stop Cipher without knowing why Dom is standing in their way. They get help from old friend Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his young protege (Scott Eastwood), who I have to assume is Mr. Nobody's son because unconditional love is the only reason I can think of for Mr. Nobody putting up with the unlikeable little dunce. That team still isn't big enough, so they have to call in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), sworn enemy of the family. Like Hobbs, he goes from an enemy to a friend in the course of this movie. It's hard to buy that he's earning a place in the family considering he killed one of its members a few movies back. On the other hand, we get to root for Jason Statham!
That brings me to the action sequences. Dom drag-races a junker car backwards while on fire (the car, not him). Hobbs and Shaw fight off prison guards and inmates to get their hands on each other. The family has to contend with a zombie attack. Shaw dispatches some henchmen on an airplane. And there's a pursuit through the Russian tundra where there's no shortage of bad guys to absorb every weapon that hasn't been used yet (I thought the entire convoy got blown up like five times, but they keep coming back for more punishment). The zombie attack is my favorite, but it's all ridiculous fun.
"The Fate of the Furious" has exactly what you'd expect in terms of comedy and action from a "Fast & Furious" movie, but it also has flaws in character motivation and development, which I'm sorry to say is also what one would expect from a boneheaded action movie. Shaw is forgiven too easily, the Eastwood character is accepted too easily, Dom uncharacteristically lets Cipher yank him around for too long, the movie doesn't know what it wants to do with the family outside of Dom, and everyone was so happy to get Theron as the villain that they forgot to give her anything interesting to say or do. Add to that an unwise follow-up line about the Walker character that undermines the final scene of both this movie and the last one, and you've got a disappointing "Fast & Furious" movie. I expected so much more after "Furious 7."
Two Stars out of Five.
"The Fate of the Furious" is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and destruction, suggestive content, and language. Its running time is 136 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at email@example.com.