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“The Fate of the Furious”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

As a car lover and a huge fan girl of the entire franchise, I set the bar almost unfairly high for “The Fate of the Furious.” As started with “Furious 7,” the films have been slowly evolving towards more of an action-packed cyber thriller than a classic parade of drool-worthy dream cars and engine-revving stunt driving.

So what does that mean for you? Well, it means newbies should have no trouble following along with the story or figuring out who’s who, but longtime fans aren’t ignored either. While there aren’t quite as many car-centric scenes as I’d like, the film remains true to its characters in the familial fashion for which the series is known. There are also plenty of fun throwback references to the old films and surprise cameos for die-hards too (you’ll know when they turn up based on the audience cheers and applause).

Initially I was very disappointed in the direction this film takes, fantasizing about how I wanted to grab director F. Gary Gray by the shoulders and shake him while hollering “less tech plot, more cars!” But as the story progressed, I realized something: if you just let go and embrace this movie as more of an action blockbuster than a gearhead race picture, all will be right with the world. If you are expecting heart-stopping stunt driving and racing throughout, you’ll find this installment to be a bit of a letdown. There are nearly as many bullets flying as there is rubber burning.

And that’s where the majority of the criticism I have for this film lies: it NEEDS MORE CARS. If you’re going to make a Fast and Furious movie, you need to have it packed with flashy driving scenes that employ actual stunt drivers. For example: one of the most creative and exciting scenes involves zombie cars that are obviously animated with CGI, which is a far cry from “Furious 7” where the production crew dropped actual vehicles from the cargo bay of a plane — but I’ll let it slide this time because the idea behind it is So. Freaking. COOL!

The car scenes unfortunately feel more like bookends than a fundamental core of the movie. It starts out with a spectacularly boisterous nitrous-fueled drag race through the streets of Havana and ends with a not-long-enough car chase across a frozen lake involving a hijacked Russian nuclear submarine, a million dollar neon orange Lamborghini Murcielago, and heat seeking missiles. Both scenes had me sitting up in my seat and whooping with glee, making me forget all of the plot filler that is stuffed in the middle. There are several truly amusing sequences sprinkled throughout though, from an entertaining as hell (yet oddly bloodless) prison riot to a baby-juggling fistfight on an airplane. What is truly incredible is that while it’s undeniably over the top, none of this feels THAT ridiculous.

The acting is mildly hammy but fun (with Michelle Rodriguez once again delivering the standout performance as Letty). The majority of the dialogue consists of musclehead rivals Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) hurling insults at each other while Tej (Ludacris) and everyone’s favorite alpha-male Roman (Tyrese Gibson) exchange their trademark barbs for comic relief. Dom (Vin Diesel) doesn’t have all that much to do in this installment and for the first half it’s the Statham and Johnson show. Charlize Theron is a welcome addition as cyberterrorist Cipher, and both Kurt Russell and Nathalie Emmanuel reprise their roles as government agent Mr. Nobody and hacker Ramsey. One new casting choice that rubbed me the wrong way was the addition of Scott Eastwood as agent Little Nobody who (obviously) is also an expert driver. He is likable enough, but it really, really felt like he was brought in as an attempt to replace Brian (Paul Walker). I just wish the series would address that Brian is gone for good and retire his character in an honest and respectful way. I know it hurts (I was crying like a blubbering baby after Walker’s untimely death), but Brian needs to be killed off.

The plot has a few trademark surprise revelations (which I won’t spoil here), including a twist that creates an opening for a beloved character come back in future installments (fingers crossed)! But don’t stick around after the movie ends, as there’s no post-credit sequence.

What anchors this franchise is the exceptional chemistry from its cast, who have an overwhelming sincerity and loyalty to their onscreen personas as well as to each other in real life. The fact that these guys all truly love each other (with the exception of Johnson and Diesel, who famously had a big fight on set) leaps off the screen. The films are thrilling but they are also all about family, and you can’t help but smile, buckle in, and hang on for the next ride.

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