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" Every woman has her chairs "
— Robert Duvall, Phenomenon

MRQE Top Critic

Mr. Bean's Holiday

When you love a movie that earns 50% on the Tomatometer, it's safer to call it a "guilty pleasure" —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

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This absurdist series about gearheads working in a James Bond world keeps jumping bigger and bigger sharks and — like the characters — it somehow finds a way to survive.

Moonbraker

The FF series is getting a little tired
The FF series is getting a little tired

It’s hard to think of another series that has transformed itself to the same extent the Fast & Furious franchise has gone from modest productions about street racing (the first episode had a budget of $38 million) to all-out action flicks involving global espionage and absolutely ridiculous action set pieces. Now there are cars jumping off cliffs and being caught midair by magnets on perfectly timed jets flying overhead; muscle cars storming up mountainsides on collapsing rope bridges and — yes — cars in space (by the way, this one had a budget likely — although unconfirmed — pushing toward $300 million).

Wow. Take a deep breath before this one starts, pull the brain out of its case and set it next to the popcorn. The latter is a necessity. The former is worthless.

The Fast & Furious series really tries to have it all. There’s the action, a generous dose of humor, overlong run times burdened with tedious backstories and a heart-tugging storyline revolving around the importance of family even as the protagonists blow up stuff and sundry people are maimed, mangled or otherwise obliterated. All of the men are geniuses and pumped. All of the women are adventurous and toned. And when the ladies dance, it’s in slow motion.

Sigh. It’s all such a fantasy.

The Montequinto Coast

At this point, there are so many characters in the menagerie the scope is reaching Marvel Cinematic Universe proportions. Characters are extravagantly introduced in a growing roster of players as the action mounts, only to have many of them contribute little to the impact of the story. A tiny bandage above an eyebrow. A brotherly hug between drag racing assassins.

It’s quite probable the move toward an ever-increasing MCU vibe is by design. Come to think of it, FCU has a certain attitude to it that seems wholly appropriate. In F9, a notion is put forth that maybe the protagonists are more than human. After all, it only stands to (movie) reason, based on how they’re able to survive so much mayhem virtually without a scratch. They’re shot at and their clothes have the bullet holes as evidence, but there are no blood stains and their bodies rebound with aplomb.

Maybe now’s the time for a simple movie-based reality check. Maybe the FF series needs to get back on course and stay in its lane, so to speak.

F9 is certainly entertaining and its rather self-effacing humor is much appreciated, if not flat-out required as a saving grace. In one scene, a character announces, “Dominic Toretto sent us.” A group mulls over the name of star Vin Diesel’s character. There’s a dramatic pause. Then the response, “Who is Dominic Toretto?”

Truly, the FF gang is legendary, at least in their own minds.

The trouble is, in between the self-digs, stunning visuals and ludicrous (not to be confused with co-star Ludacris) action, the movie drags and it’s so overblown, it doesn’t satisfactorily develop any given element on its busy dance card.

Project Aries

Jakob and Cipher
Jakob and Cipher

This time around, the story puts the fate of the entire world and all humanity in jeopardy. There’s a whole bunch of techno babble about an improbable device that could gain control over all the world’s armaments. It’s the perfect shiny object for a megalomaniac and it just so happens Dominic’s own brother, Jakob (John Cena), is the megalomaniac in question.

The story jumps back and forth between 1989 — a catalytic (oops, make that cataclysmic) event in Toretto family history — and current times. Those scenes in the ‘80s appear to have a subtle touch of film grain, but it’s more likely digital noise added in post-production.

The ‘80s set the scene for the rift between Dominic and Jakob. The contemporary action brings back Charlize Theron as Cipher, now held safely in a 360° glass cell, a sort of haut couture Hannibal Lecter — a brilliant, evil-minded strategist and hacking guru who also multi-tasks by being impeccably dressed and letting not a single hair fall out of place. Plus, Helen Mirren returns (without her Hobbs & Shaw nuclear family) to throw out a clue about where Dominic should go next.

Running at nearly 2 ½ hours, this is a globe-trotting adventure that has more in common with Roger Moore-era Bond movies than director and co-writer Justin Lin would probably like to admit. While the FF series has morphed into a universe all its own — the FCU — it’s not quite the fun feast Fast & Furious is trying to be.