Sunday, May 21, 2023

Fast X: A Review



How long has Vin Diesel been growling, "FAMILY!" in a franchise that rivals the Marvel Cinematic Universe for both length and self-importance? It has been twelve years since the original The Fast & The Furious spun its way into the hearts of many. I confess that I too have enjoyed the overt silliness of the Fast & Furious films, a franchise that long ago abandoned all logic or continuity. With Fast X (or Fast Ten if you like), we don't exactly go back-to-basics, but we do get something one can enjoy even if it still struggles to be good.

Our illegal street racers turned international superspies are given a surprise new assignment involving arms smuggling in Rome. This is the first assignment headed up by Roman (Tyrese Gibson), much to the chagrin of Tej (Christopher "Ludacris" Bridges), forever quipping about Roman's overall stupidity. Going along with them is tech guru Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Han (Sung Kang).

Not everything is as it seems though, for this whole "mission" was really a master rouse concocted by Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the hereto unknown son of Brazilian drug kingpin Hernan Reyes from Fast Five. Dante, as wild and flamboyant a villain outside of anyone residing at Arkham Asylum, has decided he will first torture Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his "FAMIILY!" before killing them as revenge. 

With Roman's crew and Dom now framed as international terrorists who attempted to blow up the Vatican, the various members of Dom's "FAMILY!" now have to work separately before working together. Uncle Jakob Toretto (John Cena) from F9 has to keep Dom's son Brian "Little B" Marcos (Leo Abelo Perry) safe from Dante and his goons. Roman and his crew have to join Jakob at the "rendezvous point", which requires the help of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the ultimate frenemy. It also requires trips to Rio, where Dom meets Isabel (Daniela Melchior), sister of Dom's baby mama who has info on Dante. 

The Nobodies in the form of Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) and his sister Tess aka Little Miss Nobody (Brie Larson) help our racing superspies, while criminal mastermind Cypher (Charlize Theron) is also involved. Both the Nobodies and Cypher have to work with and against Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), desperate to get back to Dom and "FAMILY!". Despite the difficulties, things appear to be going well, but there is a mole in The Agency, one who throws things into chaos. Will Dom and Little B survive? Has Jakob really met a noble end? Will "FAMILY!" survive this newest super-villain? 

Tune in next year for the first of a two-part series finale.

What I found while watching Fast X is that essentially this is the Blue-Collar MCU. It is the working-class version of the world's longest and most expensive soap opera. It is a soap opera, a soap opera for gearheads and those who find superhero films too silly. If you cannot identify with visitors from other worlds or billionaire vigilantes, you can identify with auto mechanics and Cockney brawlers. 

This is better than F9, but that is like saying a roof falling on you is better than the floor falling underneath you (and for the record, we do get to see the latter here). At this point, there is nothing that the Fast & Furious franchise cares about, except perhaps for the "FAMILY!" talk (also for the record, I counted the word "FAMILY!" used 26 times, even in Spanish). 

Can Dom lift an entire car with just his arm strength? Sure. Can his son fly out of a car and straight onto Dom's? Why not? Can people hereto dead come back for more rounds? Absolutely. 

Fast X, at a nearly two-and-a-half hour running time, is bloated beyond anything it should be. To be fair, at least we get something of an introduction when we recap scenes from Fast Five where we can retroactively include Momoa's character. We also get tacit acknowledgment of the outrageousness of things. When Little Miss Nobody interacts with de facto Agency head Aimes (Alan Ritchson), he tells her, "If it violates the laws of God and gravity, they've violated it twice". He also refers to them as a "cult with cars", as pretty apt a description of the entire franchise as I can think of.

However, there are entire scenes and characters that can be cut out and should have been. Of particular note is Pete Davison's character when Roman and his team are in London. It serves no purpose storywise, continues in making Roman and Tej look stupid, and even a strange bit where Han gets high. It is just there, and it stops things cold. As nice as it was seeing Rita Moreno as "Abuelita" Torreto and Helen Mirren as Queenie, there was no point to them either. 

Fast X is filled with pointless and bizarre moments that almost taunt the audience in showing off how little writers Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin care about them. For reasons known only to them and director Louis Leterrier, when a SWAT-type team storms Deckard's hideout, they have a body bag with a person still alive. For reasons even more obscure, that person jumps out of the bag wearing nothing but his underwear and runs out. I figure this person has to be known to someone, but it just is strange even for this franchise. 

Less of a point was the odd transformation of Cena's Jakob. From what I remember from F9, Cena's Jakob Toretto was meant to be a menacing, dangerous figure. Now in Fast X, he's a goofball protecting his nephew and apparently meeting a noble end. It is impossible to reconcile how Jakob went from "evil villain" to Marky Mark rapping comic relief. Not that the idea that Jakob and Little B would fly out of a commercial flight on some kind of air pod made things any more rational.

There is only one performance in the entirety of Fast X, and it is Jason Momoa as Dante. The thing about his performance is that he is all camp, not bothering to try and ground this in any kind of reality. Perhaps he figured that because the Fast & Furious franchise is essentially a cartoon by now, he played Dante as the illegitimate child of Batman Forever's Two-Face. Gleefully, even manically over-the-top, Momoa clearly had a good time camping it up way past the Nth degree. He made Dante into an overt villain, one who just enjoys being evil and ratting off villain quips whenever he could.

As he plans to have his giant bomb roll down to the Vatican, he tells his henchmen, "You're going to bomb the Vatican, but you're all going to Hell". When he sees Jakob meet his apparent end, he tells Little B, "I guess Uncle Muscle won't be back for the next bar-b-que", though he quickly adds, "OK, it was honorable". 

Two side notes. First, given how Fast & Furious never keeps anyone really dead unless they are really dead, Uncle Jakob may end up at the next "FAMILY!" BBQ. Second, I was really hoping that the bomb rolling down the Spanish Steps would take out the four old ladies from Book Club: The Next Chapter

Momoa was clearly in on the joke (that the entire franchise is a joke). Everyone else either did not realize it is a joke and tried to be serious or realized it is a joke but couldn't be bothered to play it straight or silly. No one has ever accused Vin Diesel of being an actor (though I understand he tried to move past action star roles in Find Me Guilty). Here though, Diesel gave an abysmal stab at acting. Looking blank and sometimes confused, Diesel elicited almost sympathy. He also should have subtitles whenever he speaks. It does get hard trying to understand what he is saying.

Leo Abelo Perry as Brian "Little B" Toretto took acting lessons from Diesel, as he was equally blank and confused as the man playing his father. That is the only thing they have in common, for Perry looks nothing like either Dominic Toretto or Elsa Nieves (Elsa Pataky from Fast Five, killed in Fate of the Furious). Perry therefore was cast due to his total lack of acting ability, at least in this film. I do not like beating up on child actors, but Perry was horrendous.

He also bore no resemblance to his alleged parents, making things more bizarre. 

Gibson and Bridges continue to think they are their generation's Laurel and Hardy with the forced interplay between them. After so many movies, why can't either of them make the Roman/Tej relationship believable? Emmanuel is the only one who appears to play a rational, plausible person. Everyone else is there to cash a check and be part of an increasingly nonsensical franchise. Ritchson went overboard in being the extremely serious Aimes to where it was parody.

It is not worth going over the action scenes. They all defy believability. It is a contest to see which moments were the most ridiculous. Is it how Dom saved the Vatican thanks to a convenient crane? How about Dom and Little B riding down a dam with a major explosion behind them? The fight between Cypher and Letty, where the latter gets swung headfirst onto elevator doors and is no worse for wear? It couldn't be when Dom is able to drive so fast and so furious, he is able to hold not one but two helicopters from lifting his car. Not any more ridiculous than him taking his car floating from a flying plane onto two other cars on a major highway and landing them perfectly.

I suppose once you literally went into outer space in F9, there was no way to top that.

I cannot say that I hated Fast X. I cannot say either that I liked Fast X. It is stupid, but it is not stupid fun in the way something like Fast Five is (which in my view is the best in the series). In this working-class MCU, Fast X is just a long trailer for the series finale. 


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