“The Fate of the Furious” doesn’t need your stinkin’ laws.
Speed limits? Optional. Ditto, gravity. Only one unwritten commandment of silly action moviemaking – thou shalt not exceed two hours – goes unheeded. As usual with this unstoppable franchise – now on its eighth installment – it all works somehow.
It’s been 16 years since car-obsessed thief/mechanic Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) first revved an engine on-screen, and a lot has changed since then. Dom is finished with his criminal ways, and he’s lost his best friend (Paul Walker) to retirement. (Walker, who played Brian, died midway through filming the seventh movie.) But Dom’s still an acrobatic speed demon behind the wheel, and he wastes no time showing off.
On his honeymoon with his longtime love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), in Cuba – which seems to be the capital of underbutt-revealing short-shorts – Dom winds up challenging the man with the fastest car in Havana to a race. Naturally, Dom wins by a hair, even though he’s driving a hastily souped-up jalopy. In a stunning act of diplomacy, Dom refuses to take the guy’s car keys. Newly earned respect is enough, he says.
Such emotional maturity makes what follows all the more confounding: Dom abandons Letty after being recruited by the evil computer hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), a new character who wears Metallica T-shirts and has long blond dreadlocks. But cultural appropriation is the least of her sins. In a sign that the “Furious” franchise is taking tips from Marvel, the sadistic supervillain seeks world domination.
Although Dom has perfectly noble reasons for joining forces with her – they’re right out of a soap opera – the character’s inner turmoil means that Diesel gets to flex his acting muscles for a change. That’s not always a good thing. In one scene, he cries pearl-size tears, inspiring less compassion than curiosity: Could there be a correlation between the size of his tear ducts and his biceps?
But back to the action: Cipher must be stopped, and there’s only one group to do it. Enigmatic special agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, clearly having fun) recruits Dom’s old crew, including Letty; former federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson); hilariously histrionic Roman (Tyrese Gibson); and computer nerds Tej and Ramsey (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel). With each movie, the crew gains a few allies. This time, it’s onetime villain Deckard (Jason Statham) and Mr. Nobody’s new rube of an underling (Scott Eastwood), who becomes an easy target for the team’s jokes.
Putting Statham and Johnson together is a particularly ingenious move. Both action stars have shown impressive comedic skills in recent years – Johnson in “Central Intelligence” and Statham in “Spy” – and their constant bickering is among the movie’s main pleasures.
Of course, nobody comes to the “Furious” franchise looking for jokes. It’s all about action, which doesn’t disappoint. Here, self-driving cars rain down on city streets from a multistory parking garage; rubber bullets ricochet off Hobbs’ pulsating neck muscles; Deckard parkours out of a maximum-security prison. The pièce de résistance involves a formation of cars atop an ice field, trying to outrun a submarine. As usual, the chases are gorgeously choreographed – and utterly nonsensical.
On top of the clunky dialogue and absurd plot twists, such moments suggest that the franchise – which already has two more installments planned – peaked three movies ago, with 2011’s “Fast Five.” Even so, “Fate” gives fans of the franchise exactly what they want, provided they can ditch logic as easily as the movie does.