What a weird feeling, driving home after viewing “The Fate of the Furious.”
Speeding is inevitable. You also expect a car chase — one involving explosions and shootouts … and wrecking balls … and rocket launchers … and tanks … and electromagnetic pulses … and nuclear submarines …
In the 16-year, seven-sequel interim since the debut of “The Fast and the Furious,” the franchise has morphed from a front-seat look at urban street racing to James Bond steering the Batmobile while preventing World War III.
It’s now the definition of Hollywood overkill.
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And yet, the movie works in a pass-the-popcorn kind of way. It’s silly and convoluted but never boring.
We pick back up with Dom (Vin Diesel, all gravelly swagger) and Letty (the glowering Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon in Havana. A race between vintage autos turns into a fiery death match, where the muscle-fueled legend confirms his knack for improvising around any obstacle.
“Doesn’t matter what’s under the hood,” he explains. “The only thing that matters is who’s behind the wheel.”
But along comes Cipher (a post-“Mad Max: Fury Road” Charlize Theron), and Dom goes rogue. The icy blond anarchist hacker blackmails him into performing hazardous tasks in her quest for global “accountability.”
Now his team and some former enemies must work together to stop the nefarious plan: security specialist Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, all swaggering gravel), Deckard (a volatile Jason Statham), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), plus a by-the-books agent played by Scott Eastwood (fulfilling the blandly handsome role vacated by the late Paul Walker).
It hardly matters anymore that nothing of actual substance can be found under the hood of “The Fate of the Furious.” Despite themes of brotherhood and redemption, this souped-up vehicle is built for speed, not comfort.
Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) and series writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson come up with outrageously gonzo action sequences. These range from a hacked armada of remote-controlled vehicles taking out a Manhattan police motorcade to a “Road Warrior”-esque pursuit across a melting glacier (shot in Iceland) that redefines the term “suspension of disbelief.”
As brazen as this film is at flaunting a $250 million budget, it capitalizes even more on the star power assembled. Most of the leads can carry a picture alone, and here their tag-team approach somehow doesn’t seem as overstuffed as it should. Johnson, Gibson and especially Statham earn wittier punchlines than in the chaotic “Furious 7.” A scene with Statham’s cockney assassin having to dispatch a squad of goons while toting an infant in a removable car seat is a scream.
But the real reason this kinetic sequel holds together better than previous entries is Theron. The Oscar winner doesn’t play this role as a comic book villain. To her, the tech menace Cipher remains damaged goods, malevolent in a non-funny way.
Because of that, the stakes prove higher than usual for Dom’s loyal bunch. Thus it’s easier to forgive moments in which sports cars catapult over surfacing submarines. Whatever it takes to stop this psycho.
Ultimately, after being bombarded by eight “Furious” films, it’s best to just shut up and enjoy the ride.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
‘The Fate of the Furious’
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:16.