THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS: Watching Them Pump Gas Would be More Thrilling

I feel fairly certain in saying that The Fast and the Furious series is the most wildly schizophrenic of all film franchises ever to have “graced” movie screens. By now, after talking to a wide collection of movie lovers, I’m convinced that each installment of the series is simultaneously someone’s favorite AND someone else’s most hated thanks to uneven tones, shifts in characters, and varying levels of impressive car stunts. The Fate of the Furious, the latest sequel in the unstoppable series, will surely have both supporters and detractors. Unlike the past installments, however, this one bears the unique stamp of trying so relentlessly hard to please every person buying a ticket to it through its story and stunts, while still coming across as stupefyingly dull in its pitifully desperate attempt to be liked.

Please love me.

In The Fate of the Furious, Dom (Vin Diesel) is recruited while on his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) by the beautiful, yet dangerous Cipher (Charlize Theron), a cyber terrorist hell bent on some kind of world domination (although she never seems to explain what kind) to betray his loyal crew and go rogue for her after showing him what will happen if he doesn’t. In an effort to stop Cipher and Dom, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new trainee Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) equip Dom’s crew, led by the fearsome Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and including Letty, Deckard (Jason Statham), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Owen (Luke Evans), with some of the most impressive state of the art technology and cars ever assembled to bring down this criminal mastermind.

There are two main forces at work within The Fate of the Furious which crush the film so strongly that it’s got no hope whatsoever of rising above. The first is the weight of its own seriousness. The core of the film’s intended theme can be found in the movie’s tagline, which proudly states, “Never give up on family.” It’s a true sentiment, but one which has no place in a movie which shows itself to have about as much depth as a street puddle. Every time the film tries to make an earnest comment about family, honor, and loyalty, it falls flat on its face. This is mainly because the film is trying so hard to prove that at its heart, The Fate of the Furious is so much more than spectacle, despite the fact that every attempt to do so within the script comes across as cheap and obvious. The film’s endless series of conflicted and tormented looks from crew members accompanied by carefully appointed tear-stains do not equal the kind of pathos the movie is going for. So while the tagline states that one should never give up on family, maybe it is time to give up on this series.

The second element crushing The Fate of the Furious is the weight of the pressure it’s putting on itself. This film throws in every possible scenario having to do with cars that it hasn’t yet left unturned. The result is an array of chase and crash sequences which pile up so quickly thanks to their sloppy indistinguishability, that by the time the film has concluded, we can’t tell just what it is we’ve seen; we’re just thankful we get to go home. When things couldn’t reach any lower level of trite, they become flat out ridiculous with the biggest moment of eye-rolling happening when Gibson comes flying out of the Russian ice holding onto a car door. At this point in the series, it’s more than clear that the franchise can’t quite work out what it wants to be. Does it want to be a movie about car-happy renegades, is it Mission: Impossible on wheels, or is it the working man’s James Bond? Whichever it is, the attempts at trying to hold onto its demographic while trying to exercise mass-market appeal (blatant through the use of numerous locales and a female villain) are obvious and sad.

It’s a solid given that virtually every member of the bloated cast comes up short mainly thanks to a script that doesn’t know what to do with any of the humans in the film. Diesel shows just how weak of a character Dom is when separated from the rest of his crew, while Johnson embarrassingly straddles the line between comedy and intensity (or at least his version of the two). Meanwhile, Gibson, Ludacris, and Eastwood take awkward turns at being the film’s main comic relief, and forget to do anything else. The rest of the cast, including a wasted Statham, a barely verbal Evans, a pouty Rodriguez, a distracting Emmanuel, and a comatose Theron, don’t fare much better. Only Russell is able to sell the hokey lines he’s been fed thanks to his now-legendary brand of what can only be described as “Kurt Russell coolness.”

At the risk of making it sound as if I’ve got no sense of humor or appreciation for films of spectacle, I should say that one of the main set pieces in The Fate of the Furious did captivate me slightly. It was one which occurred midway through the film, taking place in New York City where Cipher turns most of the city’s automobiles into “zombie cars,” operating them remotely as she proceeds to wreak havoc all over Manhattan with Dom leading the way as his former crew is hot on his tale. It was a pulsating, adrenaline-fueled sequence which captured the spirit of the first film and the essence of what helped to establish it as the fun, car-chase caper it initially was. However that fun spirit is gone now, replaced with loud, colorful cars, ridiculous dialogue, and a group of actors which needn’t even have shown up since the vehicles themselves have a much greater presence than they do. Far from being the worst in the series, The Fate of the Furious won’t make many fans give up on the franchise, but it certainly won’t be winning over any new ones.

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