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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious Does Dumb Fun Right

Posted by Google on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 4:09 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
The Fate of the Furious
★★★½
Now playing

Any notion of logic in the Fast & Furious film series has long gone the way of the Edsel. What began as a NOS-soaked Point Break knockoff morphed into muscle-bound heist films with muscle cars. With The Fate of the Furious, the series enters its Avengers mode, with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Jason Statham as its Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor, superheroes forming uneasy alliances to save the world from annihilation. It’s outlandish and refreshingly self-aware, giddily embracing both elements of the label “dumb fun.”

Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and new wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), open the film in Cuba, where Dominic takes breaks from his honeymoon only to race flaming jalopies around Havana for respect. Paradise is interrupted when Cipher (Charlize Theron), a prosaically named über-hacker, blackmails Dominic into her employ. It takes a while to learn what Cipher is holding over Dominic’s head, and I won’t spoil it here. Nevertheless, why Dominic doesn’t inform Letty and his team about his conundrum from the jump is the first of many head-scratchers.

When Dominic goes rogue, the narrative choice proves ingenious. It allows director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) to segregate the marble-mouthed Diesel into one subplot with Theron, the cyber ice queen, lending space for Johnson, Statham, and the more garrulous, humorous members of the cast to ping off one another unimpeded. That includes recurring court jesters Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, along with Kurt Russell hamming it up as a covert spook.

The “plot” involves nuclear launch codes, Cipher and Dominic hijacking an EMP, a Russian sub, and zombie cars flying out of parking garages—”I don’t know, but they’re building towards something,” one character utters with seeming sincerity. Johnson’s Luke Hobbs would rather coach his girl’s soccer team than save the world. Yet he and his pectorals eventually join with Statham’s Deckard Shaw, who goes from heel to face in order to exact revenge on Cipher, culminating with a sequence where Shaw takes out a plane full of goons while carrying a baby car seat, infant included.

It speaks to the breadth of the Fast & Furious universe that it can conjure nostalgia by playing mix-and- match with its panoply of previous characters while grafting on new additions. Beyond Theron, Helen Mirren pops up as a Cockney crime matriarch, while Scott Eastwood is being positioned as the new Paul Walker-in-waiting.

Like its predecessors, the parts of The Fate of the Furious are stronger than the whole. Many of the special effects are as fuzzy as the storyline. But there are several inspired sequences, including Hobbs and Shaw in a gonzo prison break, a gang race through the streets of Manhattan, and a climactic chase across a frozen Arctic lake. Gray’s comedic touch, honed on films like Friday and his remake of The Italian Job, keeps the film from devolving its faux-seriousness.

The film is gluttonous and overstuffed but doesn’t pretend otherwise, the latest model in a series that’s still as souped-up as a sports car, yet clearly built to last.

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