The latest entry of the perennial series is a mixed bag of the movies’ trademark ridiculousness and shoddy, lackluster action sequences.
At this point, the mechanics of a Fast and Furious movie are no secret. Running on an engine of blistering sincerity, the over-the-top action inevitably finds Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) pulled in for “one last job.” You’ll see a street race populated by women in bikinis. Fancy cars will defy the laws of physics as they inevitably crash, fly, or crash while flying. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) shall vamp and riff to kingdom come. Coronas will be consumed and, in the end, family will emerge victorious.
I can’t argue with this formula: I love watching Fast and Furious movies. Alas, I’m not sure I really love any of the movies in particular, or if I’d even have a good time without the healthy ironic distance I adopt before entering the theater. If you’re still on the fence about this franchise after nine movies (counting 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw), F9 probably won’t alienate anyone with an inkling that they enjoy this strain of ridiculousness, nor will it convert anyone from skeptic to believer.
So does it feel like more of the same? In a word: yes. Following an opening flashback and a laugh-out-loud glimpse at Dom as a dad—he and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have briefly settled down yet again—the movie whisks us away to Central America for an action sequence that has our heroes outrunning landmines and swinging through the sky on a muscle car attached to the remains of a rope bridge. When the dust settles, we learn that Dom has a secret he’s been keeping across two decades of movies: he has an estranged little brother, Jakob (John Cena).
It’s a bit of a shock to learn that the patriarch behind the wheel of so many movies about the virtues of family screwed over such a close blood relative. Then again, these aren’t wrongs that can’t be righted in a little less than two and a half hours. While the beginning of F9 fires on all cylinders, its middle section services neither the characters nor the spectacle. Dominic Toretto would never drive a car this slow. Both the big chase at the end of act two and the climactic set piece fail to elicit the excitement they so clearly promise, no matter how many vehicles are electromagnetically propelled through the frame.
Returning director Justin Lin’s frenetic, fast-cutting style is starting to show its age. The action that takes place outside the automobiles is nearly incomprehensible, and his car-based sequences never top that initial jungle chase. The much-hyped return of Han (Sung Kang) also comes too late to carry much resonance, and even a long-in-the-works trip to outer space fails to make a lasting impression.
Returning director Justin Lin’s frenetic, fast-cutting style is starting to show its age. The action that takes place outside the automobiles is nearly incomprehensible.
This is Lin’s victory lap. He’s the one who pulled this franchise out of the mud of C-list “underground” street racing and molded it into the billion-dollar machine it is today. He, over the course of directing the third through sixth entries, also realized just how much these movies need the dopey sincerity Diesel supplies in spades. The Fate of the Furious missed some of that heart. Hobbs & Shaw lacked it entirely. Lin’s return helps correct course, but that’s not to say it’s a steady ride. No matter how many times I watch these characters say grace, I still can’t help but feel removed from their earnestness. Lin’s heart is in the right place, but I can’t shake the feeling that whatever F9 wants to prove its predecessors have already accomplished.
That said, the grin I expect to find on my face while I’m watching one of these movies rarely fell. Your mileage may vary. If it ain’t completely broken, do you really have to fix it? If nothing else, F9 clearly illustrates the paradox the Fast and Furious franchise has become: a reliably fun franchise still lacking in essential entries.
F9 skitters into theaters this Friday, June 25.