Film review: 'The Fate of the Furious' 

What the hell, Vin Diesel? No, I'm not mad that you've ignored my four prior letters; I know you're busy cranking out forgettable cash-grabs like "The Last Witch Hunter" or whatever sequel you've decided to beat to death. But why am I only now learning that your Dominic Toretto character is not actually of Italian descent? In the opening scenes of "The Fate of the Furious," we meet cousin Fernando Toretto of Havana, which leads me to conclude that the Torettos must be Cuban, right? Or maybe ... um ... I can't believe I'm giving this so much thought -- or any thought. Dom's fluid ethnicity is the least of this overcooked film's issues, but really, you think you know a guy.

I guess what's important, Vin Diesel, is that the stunningly lucrative "Fast & Furious" franchise soldiers on after its rise from the B-movie ashes, attempting to outdo its seven previous chapters in terms of action, if not total preposterousness, and trying to fill its Paul Walker-sized void. The good news for "F&F" fans is that director F. Gary Gray, fresh off the success of "Straight Outta Compton," seems to have done his technical homework, and at this point everyone in front of the camera recognizes their laughably limited function. The bad news? The defiantly lifeless "The Fate of the Furious" is just not that much fun, and the constant pressure to be bigger and better than the last time out might be sucking the humor and heart right from it.

Like its predecessors, "Fast 8" follows the tried-and-true porn blueprint: a bunch of unnecessarily complicated chit-chat is meant to get us somewhat invested in the action interludes, which always end with loud noises as well as fluids gushing from someone's body. (In the "F&F" movies, the bullets provide new holes.) This time out, the story finds Oscar winner Charlize Theron's enigmatic Cipher tracking Dom to gorgeous Havana and blackmailing him so that he'll steal something for her. Was it a nuclear warhead? Like it matters. The point is that Cipher believes that only Dom can outfox his ragtag squad of auto-mechanics-turned-SEAL-Team-Six, since apparently no one else is on the job of saving the world.

Now, we don't initially know what the hammy Cipher is lording over Dom, but honestly, Vin Diesel, the most shocking part of that reveal for me was how little longtime "F&F" screenwriter Chris Morgan cares for timelines or logic. (Or realistic dialogue, character development, etc.) Morgan clearly assumes that audiences are only concerned with violence and car crashes, so "Fast 8" steps up with some inspired vehicular mayhem throughout the streets of Manhattan and a CGI-heavy battle on Arctic ice between our heroes and a submarine. Slightly more subtle is the adorable redemption of Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw, whether he's shooting his way around a plane, a la John Woo's "Hard Boiled," or bickering with his mother, an Oscar winner rocking garish animal prints and a cockney accent that makes Michael Caine sound like the Queen of England.

Clever and charming, Statham is by far the most enjoyable aspect of "Fast 8," and if you're not careful, Vin Diesel, he will hijack this franchise from under your sullen nose. Look, Tyrese Gibson's Roman is not funny anymore, and Chris Bridges' poor Tej looks exhausted -- both are phoning in their ongoing sexual harassment of Nathalie Emmanuel's Ramsey, the capable hacker the Scooby gang rescued in "Furious 7." Even Kurt Russell's character, Mr. Nobody, may have overstayed his welcome, plus there was no need to bring on Scott Eastwood to fill the tragically vacated role of Boring White Dude. And know that if I ever again hear Dwayne Johnson's obnoxious, cartoony Hobbs gnaw on the insult "son of a bitch" as though he's auditioning for the sheriff part in a "Smokey and the Bandit" reboot, I will freak the f*** out.

It's looking like Paul Walker was more crucial to the "F&F" movies than I gave him credit for. His Brian O'Conner was the sole thread connecting all the installments, and Walker's absence makes clear that something palpable is missing. So what's next? This franchise seems to have a hard time letting anyone walk, with one-time enemies seamlessly folded into Dom's de facto family. But things are starting to get a little crowded; have you considered dialing it back and... Oh! I just read that "Fast 8" had a record-setting $532.5 million worldwide haul in its opening weekend. Do whatever you want, Vin Diesel. Maybe I'll be along for the ride.

Love (for now),


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