THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017, F. Gary Gray)
Unrepentantly stupid, and not in the tongue-in-cheek way that the series’ highpoint to date (FURIOUS 7) was — nobody expects verisimilitude in a franchise where cars jump through skyscrapers and drive off airplanes, but the movies are still more fun when the plot isn’t so dependent upon people making the most senseless possible choices at every conceivable point. This may not reach FAST FIVE levels of idiocy, but it’s close, and it has only a few bravura sequences and a few savior cast members to push it into still-entertaining-but-a-little-disappointing territory.
Basically existing as meathead Bond films for the last several installments, Neal Moritz’s F&F movies improved tremendously with the introduction of The Rock as series regular, and since then additions like Jason Statham and Kurt Russell have been huge assets. Now it’s hard to imagine the movies being even remotely good without those three guys, because all the scenes with Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez are like Fred Durst’s version of a Lifetime movie. Now they’ve added Oscar-winner Charlize Theron as the new Big Bad, and audiences get to see her kick more ass in the ATOMIC BLONDE trailer that precedes the movie than in the film itself. She spends most of her time behind a bank of monitors, wearing a headset and barking orders. Does Gray not think she could have pulled off a sequence like James Wan (still the series’s best director, and only a one-time drop-in) shot between Ronda Rousey and Rodriguez in Dubai? George Miller would argue otherwise. In other casting mistakes, the loss of Paul Walker evidently required a new bland white guy to reach the frat bro demographic, so in comes Scott Eastwood to be amazingly unmemorable and boring, and to play an FBI agent who mispronounces “nuclear.”
The worst thing about these episodes has always been Chris Morgan’s writing (he’s done all but the first two scripts) and whenever the films are good, it’s despite Morgan, not because of him. I have to imagine Johnson came up with the Samoan soccer dance (one of the funniest scenes) and vets like Statham and Russell make even the corniest dialogue sing with their expert timing and charisma. But the first scene in F8 has Diesel saying “it doesn’t matter what’s under the hood — it’s who’s behind the wheel” and then instantly putting nitrous oxide under the hood of the car he’s racing in order to win.
Luckily, that car chase is tremendous. The prison riot that follows is equally thrilling (the face-melting rap banger “Speakerbox” from Bassnectar helps a ton), and the top-notch action sequence trilogy concludes a little over halfway through with the “make it rain” New York City set piece, which will give pause to everyone like me who simply can’t wait until self-driving cars are all that’s left on the road. Unfortunately, the Iceland-shot climax involving a nuclear sub (with some keen parallel action involving a baby with headphones straight-up ripped out of FACE-OFF) happens with the tank on E, as everything limps towards a predictable conclusion — as a flashback revolving around Helen Mirren tells a story we’d much rather be watching than what’s actually on screen.