Wednesday, July 7, 2021

F9: A Review (Review #1497)



The Fast and Furious franchise is cinematic junk food: not nutritious but enjoyable. How these street racers and petty criminals morphed into superspies that can defy the laws of physics and gravity without so much as a scratch are things we really don't notice or care about. F9, the latest entry into the Fast and Furious Saga, shows that an already bonkers franchise can take one turn too wild as to be deeply embarrassing to all concerned.   

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living a quiet life off the grid when their "Family" recalls them to help find Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), missing when his plane went down in the Latin American nation of Montequito. From here, they find themselves caught up in another explosive situation with nefarious master criminal Cypher (Charlize Theron) involved. Also involved is Dom's hereto unknown and unmentioned brother Jakob (John Cena), with whom Dom had a falling out due to Jakob's involvement in their father's death. Jakob is also the henchman for Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), son of an Eastern European dictator bent on his own world domination.

At the center of all this is the device developed for Project Ares, one which will allow whoever holds it to control all electronic devices in the world. Otto plans to use this to give himself total power and take over the world.

I'm stopping to say that The Brain's schemes to take over the world sounded more rational.

Jakob, the Pinky to Otto's Brain, goes in search of the other half of the Ares device in Edinburgh, with Dom and his "Family" in hot pursuit. Jakob may have the device, but he's still missing the key. This key involves Han (Sung Kang), believed killed in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift but who has risen from the dead. This battle between Dom's blood family and his adopted family culminates with Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Raj (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges) going into outer space in a Pontiac Fierro. Crisis averted, there are hints of rapprochement in the Toretto clan even as Cypher escapes yet again.

I have seen many memes mocking the "Family" aspect that once was a major selling point to the Fast & Furious franchise. The film series was always fun and goofy despite its brazenly more and more absurd situations. Yes, sometimes even its most forgiving fans thought some moments were eye-rolling, but despite that we accepted things because the series had a heart. Maybe it was totally unbelievable that cars could leap from one floor of a skyscraper to another, but ultimately this group genuinely loved and cared for each other. 

F9 though seems to have lost that heart, the franchise having lost its mind somewhere between Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6. Now instead of these ordinary people involved in extraordinary situations we get these almost invulnerable superheroes performing acts that would get even the most skilled superspies if not injured, killed. 

It's one thing to quietly acknowledge the absurdity of the "Family" almost never getting injured whenever they face off against super-criminals. It's another when you openly talk about it and draw attention to it. I can accept absurd, I cannot accept stupid.

Stupid, however, is what dominates F9, a film that mixes total idiocy with shameless arrogance that I will suspend disbelief beyond what even in the Fast & Furious world would be unbelievable. So much time in this bloated two-and-a-half hour spectacle is spent on the Dom/Jakob falling out that it grows tiresome. We get a backstory to something we just don't care about. A lot of that could have been captured in less time. Worse, treating all this Dom/Jakob storyline with such seriousness ends up looking comical.

Granted, not as comical as seeing a Pontiac Fierro literally flying into outer space. It's hard to know what director Justin Lin, who cowrote the screenplay with Daniel Casey and shares story credit with Casey and Alfredo Botello thought how audiences would react to this. I hope they didn't think audiences would be awed or wowed by it. The theater I saw it at was laughing uncontrollably at seeing Roman and Raj not only flying a Pontiac Fierro in outer space, but crash it into a satellite with only the satellite affected.

When I heard they were going into outer space, I thought that at most they would skim the edge of the Earth's atmosphere to keep things to some level of reality (at least reality for a Fast & Furious film). I didn't think they would literally fly off into outer space. Not since Indiana Jones survived a nuclear explosion by hiding in a refrigerator have I not only seen something so stupid but be asked to accept it as even remotely logical. I spent far too much time wondering not just how the Pontiac Fierro didn't get immediately crushed when out in space, but how Roman and Raj could ever even try reentry. 

While this sequence that makes the cringe-inducing Homeboys in Outer Space look like The Outer Limits by comparison was saved for the end of the film, we had already seen enough idiotic escapes to have us think F9 was simply full of itself. We are asked to believe that not only can our "Family" go through a minefield with the greatest of ease but that they can almost by sheer willpower swing their cars across chasms by a single rope cord. There's also the introduction of Tokyo Drift's Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), who has gone on apparently to help invent the Flying Fierro. Somehow, he and his crew made said Flying Fierro look like Doc Brown's DeLorean from Back to the Future.

As a side note, by this point it wouldn't surprise me if in Fast 10 the "Family" literally time travelled. Makes as much sense as Pontiac Fierros able to serve as spaceships.

There's also the issue of clunky dialogue. Roman describes Cypher to Dom as "the woman who killed the mother of your child", perhaps thinking Dom wasn't aware of that fact. Roman's meta-monologue about how implausibly he keeps surviving and Otto's unhinged declaration that he wants not only guns but the Millennium Falcon and Chewbacca make F9 look even dumber.

There is no acting in F9. Those who have been with the franchise from the beginning are not stretching, though perhaps to be fair there is nothing more to mine for these characters in terms of backstory. Those who pop in for quick cash grabs (Theron, Dame Helen Mirren, Russell) are having a most fun time not having to put any effort. For some reason, I think Black fared the worst. It's not because he gave a bad performance (his was just as good as everyone else, meaning equally bad). It's that he looks at least ten years older than his 38 years. As for Cena, the most recent face to this, all he is capable of doing is scowling, and even that he does poorly.

He's much better at groveling to the Chinese Communist than he is at anything remotely considered "acting". 

There were cameos from pop stars that had some in the audience squealing with delight but whom I had no idea who they were.  

I have enjoyed every Fast & Furious film, even the much-derided Tokyo Drift. I hated the spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, and while I didn't hate F9, I can't muster any enthusiasm for it either. Somehow, F9 seems hollow, too stupid and insulting for those who genuinely care about these characters. 


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