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Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review: #FateoftheFurious

Fate of the Furious delivers more stunts and more action but seemingly less of everything else.

Review by Matt Cummings
If a film can (or even should) be measured by the amount of stunts, explosions, and cheesy dialogue it contains, Fate of the Furious would be film of the year. Luckily, we don't ascribe to such standards, as we actually like a little story with our beat downs (see John Wick: Chapter 2. Filled with more than enough stunts, explosions, and one-note dialogue to fill its extended runtime, it also does less of everything else, spinning and careening its way to obsolescence.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is enjoying his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when he comes face to face with the techie Cipher (Charlize Theron), who makes two demands: work for me to destroy your friends, or watch another friend die. His teammates, including Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris) are shocked to see Dom not only turn but attack them at the black site of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), stealing an important piece of tech for unknown reasons. But change is coming in other ways, as Nobody enlists the help of none of than Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) - who killed Han in Tokyo Drift - and hasn't forgotten the bitter memories of challenging Dom's team. Forced to work together, Letty, Hobbs, and Deckard must stop Dom before Cipher's plan of world domination is realized, not by conquering countries but controlling information.

There's lots missing from Fate of the Furious, as if Director F. Gary Gray is both guiding a ship that cannot be changed from its current course, nor does anyone have an idea where exactly it will make land. No characters are allowed to develop (or have developed) beyond their paper-thin premises, nor can our actors do anything outside of what they normally do in this series, because that would be a surprise indeed. Sometimes that philosophy works, such as the various stunt sequences that do offer moments of gaping mouths. I mean, where in another film are you going to see a submarine pursue a car? But for the most part, Fate of the Furious is content to basically repackage the same format, complete with Ludacris and Gibson clowning one another, Johnson reverting to his WE days to punk Statham, and Diesel's tried (and mostly tired) "family is everything" shtick. There's a pattern of joke-action-explosion-long stares-plan-joke-repeat going on that at one point you'd swear you were back at the beginning of this movie.

Fate of the Furious is also bereft of logic. The idea that Dom could be swayed to injure his own people at the cost of another partner (and a lesser one at that) makes no sense. We're also lead to believe that the Deckard's killing of Han in Tokyo Drift wouldn't leave any ill feelings on the part of the team. Unlike Loki's observation in Thor: The Dark World - that there would be a line of people waiting to kill him - the team is only superficially interested in taking Deckard down. That's neither realistic nor does it play out too well when our test audience could be heard whispering the same question.

But underneath the cars, skirts, guns, and explosions, Fate of the Furious also suffers a rather serious problem: its leads apparently do not like one another. I've been operating under the false pretense that Diesel and Johnson's ongoing public spats were probably just a marketing ploy, as the plot does see Dom and Hobbs challenging one another. Having now seen the film, I can safely say that I was wrong: these guys have a real problem with each other, and Writer Chris Morgan is forced to navigate some perilous waters to keep these two away from really hurting one another. In fact, I counted less than 5 scenes in which the two were paired or were even a part of the same scene. That never would have happened between Diesel and Paul Walker, whose death in 2013 has certainly changed this series' dynamic. When your leads refuse to work with one another, how can any chemistry be built on which to base your action? And without that true feeling of a cast who's now made 8 of these, one cannot help but think that this family might need some time away from each other.

It's the empty feeling one gets after drinking a diet soda: it goes down easy but leaves no memory of its appearance. Fate of the Furious is that elegantly fizzy drink that is well cast and features some nice surprises (stay away from the cast list and you'll enjoy this film even more). But just like the newest version of that diet soda, it refuses to be anything more than a retread of similar elements from the last two films, mixed in with some upgraded casting, as if we were offered an improved can of that soda that was merely larger than the previous. We're still happy to drink it, but that doesn't mean we like it more. Speaking of our cast, Fate of the Furious upgrades its talent, centered around the techie Theron rather than a bruiser like Fast 7's Shaw. Theron is not so much posing as the ultimate baddie to Dom's ultimate hero as merely serving as another aggressor for him to take down. But the tech element is interesting, especially if you remember events from the previous film. Statham gets more time in with the team, but we've seen that already.

As mentioned, there are a couple of memorable cameos that help prop up the story, but they're not around enough to correct another serious issue with Fate. Somehow, this grease monkey/street racer has become one of the most formidable spies in the world, which has left Chipher with no other choice than to take Dom down. But we all know that won't happen, which again presents a hero who somehow can drive his way through any difficulty. He can jump over buildings and submarines, deftly escape from a heat-seeking missile, and can race a beat-up Cuban ride all the way to victory, because he's the new James Bond. Unlike that series, we just can't buy the idea of him saving the day when we've already seen him do ridiculous stunts in the (honestly) better XXX: Return of Xander Cage. With that, we know what we're getting, and so the cheese is ok. Fate of the Furious is much like Captain America's shield, refusing to obey to any laws of physics, when that's not what the series was originally based upon. But unlike 2016's Civil War, Fate doesn't offer an emotional leg to stand on, which makes the escalating action feel entirely empty.

Fate of the Furious delivers more action, explosions, and more surprises than the last, but it all seems less interesting. There's definitely been a tonal shift since Walker's death, and the cast seems to be in a daze for most of the film, never going beyond their tightly-rigid characters. That creates a sense that the franchise is getting long in the tooth, which could mean that a major tune-up is necessary, with some saying that it's already begun. In the final scene, one character states that they're done serving country and will return home to a quiet life. That's not in the cards for this series, but what we're getting certainly feels like Fate of the Furious has run its course. If it gets any bigger, we might not have characters left at all to drive the cars.

Fate of the Furious is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language and has a runtime of 136 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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