Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: "The Fate of the Furious"

As we already knew from the movies, you can outrun an explosion, provided it happens in slo-mo. Now from “The Fate of the Furious,” the franchise that started out about illegal street racers and somehow morphed into full James Bond-esque international intrigue and action set pieces, we learn you can block an explosion simply by parking a car in front of it.

It’s true -- the flames won’t go above, below or around the vehicle at all! Thanks, Furious!

I know, I know; nitpicking the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, now in its astonishing eighth iteration, is like criticizing the dancing bear’s form. People pay to see it because it does what it does, not because it’s particularly good at it or whether the whole enterprise makes a lick of sense.

The thing is, people got hooked on these movies because they combined hot rods, bulging muscles, macho preening, hoochie mamas and lots of hard-throttle racing. Most of that has gone by the wayside in “Fate.” Oh, there are a few cool cars, and neither Vin Diesel nor Dwayne Johnson seem to own any shirts that include sleeves.

But at this point the Furious movies are big, messy, sprawling orgies of pomposity and ridiculousness. It’s all about Russian separatists and nuclear codes and elite cyber hackers and no-name American spy agencies. There are eight gazillion characters, and apparently we’re supposed to be able to remember some sideshow guys from four movies ago.

When last we left Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his “family” of driver/robbers, they’d finally found some peace after pulling off one last big job. We learn they’ve been staying in Havana, which in this depiction is a true socialist paradise of cruising cars and women with cheeks hanging out of their skirts.

Dom gets a visit from Cipher, a computer hacker and criminal mastermind, played with hollow eyes and a taunting smirk by Charlize Theron. She shows him an image on her phone, and as a result he turns his back on his crew and becomes her mercenary in some very big heists against the Russian military. His actions are so bewildering, his friends keep wondering aloud: “Has Dominic Toretto finally gone rogue?”

Hint: Dominic Toretto has not gone rogue.

You may remember the other players: Michelle Rodriguez is Letty, Dom’s fiery lady love, now wife; Johnson is Luke Hobbs, a special ops badass who used to chase Dom & Co. but now allies with them; Tyrese Gibson is Roman, the wisecracking, cowardly one; Chris “Ludacris” Bridges is Tej, the brainy tech expert; Nathalie Emmanuel is Ramsey, a hacktivist who created some spying software called God’s Eye in the last movie and now fends off lame sexual innuendo from Roman and Tej.

Jason Statham returns as Shaw, a bad guy for at least one other movie, maybe two. (I really can’t remember.) Now he and Hobbs are in jail together for about a minute and a half, then they’re forced to team up against Cipher. They keep threatening to have a fistfullicious throwdown when their temporary alliance is ended; it gives us something to look forward to.

Kurt Russell shows up as the helpful spy guy pulling some strings, and Scott Eastwood is his dorky young apprentice who eventually wises up. I get the sense Eastwood is being groomed to assume the role of Bland Straitlaced White Guy vacated by Paul Walker.

The movie, directed by F. Gary Gray from a script by Chris Morgan, is big, loud and dumb, but perhaps not big and loud enough for its own good. There’s an astonishing amount of jabbering and people tapping away furious on computer keyboards. This is one of those movies where virtually every object in the world can be controlled by computers, including an army of self-driving cars and even a nuclear submarine.

(Quibble: If you leave the hatch of a sub open, as the characters clearly do, it tends to flood when it submerges. OK, I’ll stop.)

There was one clever and funny bit where Shaw fights a bunch of people on a plane while carrying a very important object, about which I’ll say no more. It’s basically the movie’s MacGuffin, but cuter.

“The Fate of the Furious” is a transcendentally silly movie, rock-headed and testosterone-fueled, but one not without its charms. The car stunts are fun, the bad guys are hiss-able, and even the hyper-masculine peacocking gets so silly the guys start laughing at each other in between boasts and threats.

I wish the thing was 40 minutes shorter. Come to think of it, I wish they’d stopped making these two or three movies ago. But I hear two more are coming, whether we like it or not. Just pay your money and clap for the bear.

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