As "F9" spins its wheels, it's time to put the "Fast and Furious" franchise in park
Starring Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Charlize Theron, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren and Kurt Russell. Written by Daniel Casey and Justin Lin. Directed by Justin Lin. Opens June 25 at multiple GTA drive-ins. 145 minutes. PG
If brains were gasoline, the “Fast & Furious” franchise wouldn’t have enough to power a Smart car.
This isn’t news, of course. The actors and enablers of this wheel-squealing series have for 20 years worn its swaggering stupidity as a weird mark of honour, like skid marks on freshly laid asphalt.
The idiocy has often been breathtaking and amusing, a genuine guilty pleasure. Remember the “Furious 7” scene where granite-domed Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) jumps a sports car between three Abu Dhabi skyscrapers? His terrified passenger screams, “Dom, cars don’t fly!”
Now comes the latest instalment, “F9,” so titled because it was easier to grunt than “Fast & Furious 9.” It’s actually the 10th “F&F” film if you include the particularly moronic 2019 spinoff “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” which I’m just as happy to forget. It starred Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, who are MIA from “F9.”
Their absence is a blessing. Returning franchise director and co-writer Justin Lin crowds so many people into “F9” there’s barely room to execute a three-point turn. He’s even summoned back the supposed dead — and I’m talking about a certain character, not zombies.
Here’s the bad news: “Fast & Furious” just ain’t Fresh & Funny anymore. CGI excess has rendered the crazy car stunts that are the bones of this popcorn amusement into dull parodies of long-gone thrills. A lot of the movie simply looks fake, even the mandatory drag races. And with a 145-minute run time, it gets wearisome long before the credits finally roll.
The flying (actually leaping) car of “Furious 7” finds its “F9” counterpart in a long sequence where squabbling comic relief duo Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) strap rockets to a Pontiac Fiero and blast off into space.
They’re seeking to knock out a dangerous satellite that could seize control of all the weapons on Earth and blow up the world, maybe. Charlize Theron’s cyber-villain Cipher from the “The Fate of the Furious,” a.k.a. “F8,” has returned, but she’s little more than a cameo.
Spoiler non-alert: It doesn’t matter. “F9” is fixated not on the fate of the planet, but as usual on the furious personal issues of series mainstay Dom, the cocky L.A. street racer in the muscle-popping white T-shirt who has been elevated into an auto jockey’s wet dream of James Bond and his gizmo-laden rides.
Dom, married to fellow car nut Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), has gotten even more serious lately, which is saying a lot about a guy who could win a staring contest with an Easter Island statue. He just wants to quietly work on his souped-up Dodge Charger as he and Letty raise their young son in their rural hideaway.
Fate won’t leave this furious guy alone and a 1989 prologue starts the engine. A family tragedy occurs during a car race that Dom blames on his younger brother, Jakob, who is played by Finn Cole as a kid and John Cena as an adult. (Vinnie Bennett plays the younger Dom.)
Jakob has daddy issues and older bro issues to work out, and he’s responded to them by turning into a planet-threatening megalomaniac.
The bros become mortal enemies, chasing each other around the globe — stops include Tokyo, London, Edinburgh, Cologne, Tbilisi and the fake Central American country of Montequinto. The movie frequently grinds to a halt while flashbacks recall the source of their feud or they merely utter oaths at each other: “You never deserved the Toretto name!” Dom yells.
Meanwhile, the rest of the overstuffed cast do their best to remind us that “F9” is supposed to be an action movie, not a family counselling session.
What genuine thrills and laughs “F9” offers are frequently courtesy of the female cast members. Letty gets hearts pounding, along with Brian Tyler’s stentorian score, as she roars a motorcycle through a Central American jungle filled with landmines, pursued by soldiers with machine guns.
Computer brainiac Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) gets chuckles as it’s revealed she’s the only member of Dom’s crew who doesn’t drive, which is practically a firing offence here. This doesn’t stop her from commandeering a truck and racing through the streets of Edinburgh, all while using a giant electromagnet to foil pursuers. It’s a plot device that might be better employed in an “Austin Powers” spy parody.
After 20 years, guys, it’s time to put the “F&F” car in park, although I know you’re not listening to know-it-alls like me. “F9” is already setting pandemic box-office records and “F10” is in production. (There’s word the series might end after they make “F11,” but I don’t believe it.)
I miss the days when a “Fast and Furious” movie was a guilty pleasure rather than a critical duty. 🌓
(This story originally ran in the Toronto Star)