Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel form an unholy alliance in ‘The Fate of the Furious’
“The Fast and the Furious” series once had a slightly odd episode called “Tokyo Drift.” But the entire franchise seems to have happily embraced “James Bond Drift.”
What began as a fairly simple, albeit juiced-up version of an old hot-rodding B-movie – with over-age juvenile delinquents tangling with over-cute undercover cops – has slowly turned into some sort of extreme spy flick, as super-secret organizations battle each other over lethal high-tech gizmos.
The latest episode, for example, “The Fate of the Furious,” features a cold-as-ice blonde villainess, the pursuit of an apocalyptic weapon, several simmering feuds and Vin Diesel globetrotting around the world looking for action and, presumably, lucrative foreign distribution.
Wait, wasn’t the same plot for the last movie in the other Diesel franchise, “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage”?
Yeah, pretty much. Except in this movie, he doesn’t wear the big fur coat. And he’s got a much better, and bigger, supporting cast, with surprise guest stars and a lot of shiny cars.
The plot? Who can keep track anymore? Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have switched sides so many times it’s hard to remember who’s a bad guy and who’s merely “a rebel” as they all pick fights, punch walls and vow to play by nobody’s rules. (If this movie had any more testosterone, it could grow hair.)
They’re all back, though (along with Michelle Rodriguez) and at least nominally on the same side. (The series’ one, quite real saving grace: It’s quiet, confident diversity.) Other functions are fulfilled by Kurt Russell as the shadowy “Mr. Nobody” and Charlize Theron as the mysterious “Cipher.” Really, they pay people to write these things?
More important, though, people pay to see them, so this latest episode gives them more of what they presumably pay for – big, auto-erotic closeups of gleaming cars, which then get gleefully blown up and smashed to bits, all for the audience’s vengeful pleasure. You want this? Well, you’ll never have it. Now — let’s destroy it!
It’s a strange, vaguely sick spectacle, like a beauty pageant where the winner gets hit in the face with a mud pie.
“The Fate of the Furious” starts in Havana – a paradise of citywide street races and nearly bottomless beauties, it seems – then hop-scotches around the world, as the team splits up, forms new alliances, and then goes in pursuit of Theron’s Cipher, who is evil incarnate. (We can tell this because, unlike Diesel, she speaks quietly, and uses words of more than two syllables.)
There’s not much even the talented Theron can do with this character, except stand still and look gorgeous. Still, there are some pleasures in the cast, including Russell, sporting his old “Tequila Sunrise” hairdo as the super-secret agent, and Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges, who’ve developed a nice sparring rhythm as two comical members of Diesel’s crew.
A particular standout is Jason Statham, who gets a funny scene with Helen Mirren, of all people. And a great action sequence all his own that – while never reaching the brilliance of a similar shoot-em-up in John Woo’s epic “Hard-Boiled” — is still wittily and sharply directed by F. Gary Grey, with smart compositions and some deadpan humor.
There are a couple of other strong action moments, including a chase down New York’s Fifth Avenue, and enough vehicular manslaughter to make this eight installment undoubtedly the franchise’s latest hit. (Diesel has already threatened there are at least two more to come.) If you like watching people snarl at each other, and things blow up — well, there’s a lot to like here.
But what once was billed as fast and furious has become increasingly loud and senseless.
Ratings note: The film contains violence and strong language.