Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Fate of the Furious is Dumb Fun

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I have to make a confession: I’ve never seen a single entry in the Fast and Furious (F&F) franchise. It happens. There are a lot of movies out there. There are movies I’ve seen and some I haven’t.

So I went in cold, except I knew the F&F movies had a rich and tortured mythology. At the start of the film, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon in Cuba. This was a shock to me because I could’ve sworn Dom and Letty were siblings, so either I was out of it, or the movie was. It turns out both can be true.

The technical term for movies like the F&F franchise is a Latin word that roughly translates into “bananas.” Throughout most of the first part of the movie, I felt like someone who started watching a soap opera in the middle of its twelfth season. I tried to make sense of the goings-on while also attempting to figuring out the character’s relationships to each other.

This was a fool’s errand, and I quickly just gave up and allowed the absurdity to watch over me. I had realized the F&F movies aren’t action movies, they’re not comic book movies, they’re not car chase movies, they’re not soap operas, they’re not live action cartoons, and they’re not a throwback to the old black and white serials that used to play before the movie. No, they are all of that rolled into one. Each new entry is trying to figure out a new way to wring meaning out of the word ‘family’ while also trying to show you how puny and silly the laws of physics truly are.

This movie is nuts. And Dumb. Really dumb. And really nuts. But man oh man is it a blast, most of the time.

While on their honeymoon in Cuba, Dom, and Letta engage in outlaw street racing, tow truck disputes, high stakes gambling, cuddling, and baby talk. And this is only in the first ten minutes. While on his way back from the store, Dom runs into a stranger. No matter how crazy a movie may be, everyone has to go to the store, EVERYONE.

The stranger turns out to be Cipher (Charlize Theron). A global terrorist, a renowned hacker with no digital footprint, scourge of the underworld and law enforcement world alike. She also comes with a Rastafarian inspired head of dreads, accessories not included. It’s one of the great pities of the film that Theron’s hairstyle seems to be having more fun than she is.

Cipher poses as a stranded motorist just long enough to lull Dom into talking to her before showing him a picture on an iPhone and before you can shout out, “Let me see too!” she’s blackmailed him into joining her team, betraying family, and leaving him to mope in Cuba while she goes back to her untraceable ghost plane/palatial pad/office. This is right about the twelve-minute mark for those following along at home.

The writers of Fate of the Furious at the very least realize time is of the essence. Every scene seems to just layer on more and more information, an impressive feat considering I still had no idea what in the blazes was going on! But then the movie cuts to Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) coaching his daughter’s soccer team during the championship game, and I was kind of okay with that.

More information is dumped into our laps concerning something about an EMP and those pesky Germans, exactly what I didn’t know then and I know less now. All I know is Hobb’s daughter’s team the “Red Dragons” won. So really I retained all the information that mattered.

Now we’re off to Germany where we meet with the rest of the F&F team in the midst of gloriously impractical and improbable car chase/escape scene. Which then leads us to Dom’s sudden and inevitable betrayal of the ‘family’ as he crashes into Hobb’s car, steals the EMP, and rendezvous with Cipher. Props to Letta for weathering what has to be one of the more rocky starts to a new marriage that I’ve seen in a good long while. As Del Griffith once said, “She’s a real trooper.” These movies being what they are, a chain of fateful events are set into motion.

Hobbs is sent to prison for treason for stealing the EMP. The rest of the team…something happens to them I’m not really sure what. On his way to prison Hobbs is greeted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new protege Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Hobbs is then reunited with Deckard (Jason Statham). Deckard escapes prison, Hobbs follows suit to catch Deckard, and both are found by Mr. Nobody and brought on board to stop Dom and Cipher.

Mr. Nobody takes the two to his secure and undisclosed base where Letty, Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are there as well, handcuffed. Oh hey, there’s the rest of the team.  Before you can say ‘Bob’s your Uncle,’ Cipher and Dom break into Mr. Nobody’s secure and undisclosed base to steal his super duper, uber duber, top secret surveillance tracking system, ‘God’s Eye’, for her own nefarious purposes.

Her nefarious purposes involve stealing the nuclear football from those other reliable movie villains, those pesky Russians, hacking into a cold war nuclear sub, and holding the world superpowers in check. Her reasoning is if she holds them at nuke point they will behave more reasonably and be more accountable. Plus Dom has a kid! I think.

Look I’m going to be completely honest with you, I’m not entirely sure what happened exactly. I am sure it doesn’t matter. What happened isn’t really the point. The point is stuff goes ‘ka-blooie’ cars go ‘vroom vroom’ and the movie swings from objectifying women to empowering them while still traveling in some age old classic patriarchal tropes.

F. Gary Gray keeps the movie pumping at full speed as best he can. The brakes are only applied because of Theron’s performance. Cipher is a mainstay in every action/adventure/whatever the hell this movie is, but Gray and company don’t ever seem to allow Theron to let loose. This could also be the script’s fault. She’s given reams of exposition to pore through ranging from her own variation of “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond!” to a bizarre expositorial dump that involves the deconstruction of the historical, psychological, and biological evolution of the family unit.

So maybe it’s not entirely her fault.

Theron aside, the movie’s own sense self-importance both delighted me at times and wore on my patience at others. But every time I began to lose patience with the movie Dame Helen Mirren would show up as Deckard’s mother and do a cartoonishly over the top cockney accent, and I’d be okay again.

As the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but smile. This is the eighth movie in a franchise that has always had a rich multi-cultural, ethnically, and gender diverse cast and crew. In an age where Hollywood seems to be doubling down on whitewashing one thing after another, the F&F franchise stands like a giant middle finger to the establishment as it rakes in millions time and time again.

The Fate of the Furious isn’t perfect. It drags here and there. But seeing Dame Helen Mirren slap Jason Statham up the side of his head while it literally rains cars in downtown Manhattan is worth the price of admission alone.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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