The Fate Of The Furious is basically the action movie equivalent of your dad catching you smoking a cigarette and making you finish the entire carton. I left the theater confused, drained, nauseous; feeling sick and queasy from something I thought I’d wanted, as if I’d just beer-bonged an entire package of Skittles. You win, dad, I regret everything.
Yes, the gang has come a long way since the days of stealing DVDs and “bullsh*t, asshole, no one likes the tuna here.” In this latest installment, the gang 1) outruns a nuclear submarine 2) which is being controlled remotely by a sexy hacker 3) over the arctic ice 4) while driving Lamborghinis. At one point, Tyrese snaps off the Lamborghini door and uses it as a bullet shield while single handedly taking out three Russian separatist soldiers with a pistol. Tyrese! And he’s supposed to be the buffoon of the group! (In the movie and in real life).
Which is to say, The Fate of the Furious is nothing if not boldly stupid, and before now I’d thought bold stupidity was the best thing about this franchise. It was never a question of abandoning its roots, because, as noted above, Fast‘s roots weren’t good. Michelle Rodriguez catching Paul Walker as he’s falling off a cliff by hooking him with her car’s spoiler as she drifts it by the cliff’s edge in Fast 7, that was good. Vin Diesel jumping a car from one skyscraper to another skyscraper, that was good. Virtually every scene in F8 is even more creatively preposterous than my favorite parts of 7 Fast 7 Furious, but somehow it’s less fun now. F8 took everything I thought I liked about this franchise and bludgeoned me with it for two and a half hours.
On paper, the plot is perfection. As we begin our story, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is off living the sweet life with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in Cuba, racing the local heavy for pinks to save his heretofore unspoken of cousin from infamy and unmanly agreement welching (“a man sticks to his word” says Dom, or something to that effect). Despite his opponent pulling every Snidely Whiplash trick in the book, from trying to run Dom off the road to getting his buddy to try to murder Dom with a motorcycle, Dom manages to win, driving “the slowest car on the island” against his opponent’s “fastest car on the island,” screeching through the finish line in reverse and bailing out at high speed onto the sidewalk while his car catches fire and explodes over the ocean. Dom dusts himself off, picks up cheering Cuban children like trophies, and, when the heavy throws Dom his keys, saying, “You won my car, and my respect,” Dom tosses back the keys saying “I’ll settle for your respect.”
Golly, what a guy. It’s over-the-top wish fulfillment, which is fitting for a franchise that started as a Point Break ripoff whose Bodhi does a face turn at the end and everyone ends up best friends. Imagine Point Break if Bodhi’s Buddhist bullshit hadn’t been seduction, something that sounds just good enough to throw the good guy off his game for a bit, but the film’s objective truth. That is the subtext of Fast, that the bad guy was right all along, about living life a quarter mile at a time, whatever that means. Eight movies in, pretty much every bad guy they’ve ever thrown at this franchise — Dom, The Rock’s Luke Hobbs, Jason Statham’s Deckard, Luke Evans’ Owen, Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody — is a good guy now. I’m not sure this series understands how anti-heroes work.
The villain this time around is Charlize Theron’s “Cipher,” a mysterious super hacker who bears a strong resemblance to Angelina Jolie’s character in Gone in Sixty Seconds:
It’s funny, because The Fast And The Furious and Gone In Sixty Seconds came out around the same time, and at one point they were sort of cinematic kin. Now Furious can blatantly rip off its styling and assume no one will even remember, and mostly they don’t. It’s almost a power move.
Anyway, Cipher shows up in Cuba with some dirt on Dom dirty enough that he immediately double crosses the gang and joins Cipher on her “ghost plane” (which flies through the seams between satellites). Turns out she’s holding Dom’s son and ex hostage (that’s the ex and son Dom had while Letty was presumed dead, until it turned out she’d just had amnesia, and he smashed her tombstone with a sledgehammer) so that Dom will help her do some crimes.
This includes stealing the Russian nuclear codes in the middle of Manhattan. Dom is the man on the ground for this heist while Cipher and her team of super hackers make it literally rain cars (they’ve been hacked!) until the Russian defense minister’s limo is buried under a pile of them. Which is a hilarious bit for a few reasons, the first of which being that Manhattan is possibly the last place on Earth where being a street racer would be helpful, since you can get out and walk faster than most cars can move. But the Fast/Furious franchise could figure out how to incorporate cars into an elevator fight. You might also note that Cipher has the hacking skills to make New York City rain cars but apparently needs a doughy street racer who cut his teeth stealing DVD players to fill out her gang.
Like I said, on paper, the plot is perfection. In another movie, that raining cars bit (which I still have no idea how they filmed — CGI?) would’ve been the best thing ever. So would some of the scenes where The Rock breaks his handcuffs (don’t ask) and kills three prison guards by throwing one at the other two and splitting them like bowling pins. Luke Hobbs basically has the strength of the Incredible Hulk and the mouth of, well, early 2000s The Rock, the pro wrestler. “I’ll kick your teeth so far down your throat you’ll have to put a toothbrush up your ass to brush your teeth!” he tells Statham, in one of the numerous scenes of them flirting.
In practice, it’s kind of exhausting. I could watch a Vin Diesel movie where it rains cars, a The Rock movie where he swings human men like baseball bats, or a movie where parkour Jason Statham gets in a gun fight on a plane while holding a baby, but squeezing all three into one movie is maybe too much. To say nothing of the bad Ludacris/Tyrese sitcom, the Michelle Rodriguez growling thing, and whatever movie Helen Mirren was supposed to be in (you guys can have those). I feel bad for saying this because “too much” is admittedly the only thing Fast ever did well.
With enough repetition even excess eventually just becomes a droning noise. Not to mention that when pushed far enough, action movie wish fulfillment has a strange way of triangulating. That scene where Jason Statham gets in a gun fight while holding a baby? Kind of a lot like the scene where Clive Owen gets in a gun fight while holding a baby from Shoot ‘Em Up, isn’t it? And that movie was supposed to be parody. At a certain point, wish fulfillment just becomes a depressing reminder of our inherent basicness. So even as I’m tipping my Corona to whoever came up with that brilliantly idiotic raining cars scene, reveling in the majesty of a world where such a thing is possible, I’m forced to reckon with the fact that deep down we all just want to see zoom cars and giant muscle men who crack jokes and kill with impunity while being tender towards infants, and that we’re all going to die some day.