F8 of the Furious

OK, it’s time to fill your tank, strap yourself in and forget everything you learned in science class. We have another entry in “The Fast and the Furious” franchise to watch.This logic defying, cheesy dialogue spewing, CGI mismash, is what I like to refer to as “Craptacular”. It doesn’t need to make any sense, it just needs to entertain us for a couple hours on a sunny weekend afternoon after we’ve had a nice lunch and we are looking for some air conditioned silliness. “F8 of the Furious” as I insist it should be spelled, has a lot of things going for it despite the cockamamie story telling, paper thin characterization and 1000 yard stare machismo. I don’t anticipate these films like some people do, In fact I was not even sure I would see this one. But when the history of my life is written, I won’t hate myself for having enjoyed these movies a bit. They feel like summer.

From where I sit, the best things about this series are it’s most recent additions. I missed the film where Dwayne Johnson first showed up as a character in these, but he is a guy that oozes charisma. Jason Statham is in his third one of these movies, having a brief cameo in 6 and then being the main bad guy in 7. Whatever they are paying these guys it is worth it because they inject the most energy into the movies of any of the actors. Kurt Russell shows up in a suit and tie for a few scenes, and his swaggering smarminess as a spook with no name, brings a smile to my face. If only Scott Eastwood were as much fun as the intern version of Russell’s character.

Two new additions for this film are the ladies that figure heavily in the plot. Charlize Theron steps in as the villain for this edition of the story. She has tightly weaved hair extensions and a badass attitude. It looks like she was saving all her action chops for “Atomic Blonde” later this summer, because in her role as Cipher, she primarily barks orders and frantically types. In another of the mindless film sequences over the years, cyber hackers attack, block and outwit each other as we see who can really reach 70 words a minute on their laptop. Maybe if we edit it together tightly enough and inject some screen shots of computer graphics, it will feel like an action piece. [No it doesn’t]. After giving us a dozen reasons to hate her and be ready to cheer for the comeuppance that we have been waiting for, there is an unsatisfactory close to her story. In all probability, we will see the same plot twist that has happened in every one of these films happen in the next one. Also stepping in in a brief scene is Dame Helen Mirren. She doesn’t get to do much but she can act everyone else in the film right off the screen just by sitting there.

For thirteen years people have piled on Pierce Brosnon’s last outing as 007, for some of the same reasons that they have embraced this franchise. CGI cars that defy gravity, preposterous super villains with all powerful knowledge, stunts that induce as much laughter as excitement, and jokes that don’t produce either laughter or much character. With the exception of Statham’s sequence on a plane, the humor here largely falls flat. Since I am at heart a sentimentalist, I sometimes find myself being drawn into the “Family” motif that strings these films together. Who doesn’t like a hardy laugh as you celebrate your victory of a new bad guy by breaking bread and forming an alliance with the last bad guy. As I said earlier, it doesn’t make a lot of sense but cracking the whip on a movie like this is a little like kicking a puppy. It ties so hard to please you that it is just wrong to punish it when it drops a turd on your carpet. fate_of_the_furious_ver3

If you think you can take a giant grain of salt and choke it down, than you will almost certainly enjoy a car chase with a submarine, or a parachute jump that would make D.B. Cooper proud. You probably won’t care that a convoluted double cross is arranged without any explanation or that people leaping out of cars traveling well in excess of the speed limit results in no physical consequences. “The Rock” doesn’t need the force to levitate his opponents off the ground, Statham doesn’t need gravity to interfere with a good fight or foot chase, and Vin Diesel doesn’t need to act to star in a movie. All of these things are still more believable than finding enough clear road to chase on in New York City on a weekday afternoon.

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I can’t say I am a big fan of these films. I saw the first one when it came out and did not return to the series until the previous film, Furious 6. That film had a convoluted plot, brought back a dead character, and pushed the limits of what is believable in a car chase film. Somewhere along the line the gang of criminals featured in these stories became the good guys and they now are working as intelligence operatives because they pissed off the wrong people. I don’t buy a second of any of it, but watching it was not annoying in any way and if you are willing to give up any sense of realism, recognize that gravity and physics don’t mean anything to making movies any more, than there are worse ways to pass a couple of hours.

Vin Diesel and crew are the continuing attraction. They race cars manically and they take dangerous stunts to the ultimate level. Paul Walker’s death in late 2013 delayed this film as they had to create a way to tell the story with bits of his role that had been filmed and plug in spots where there was no footage to work with. I guess you could spend the time playing “spot the CGI double” but that is too much effort for such a weightless film.

To me, the two best things the movie has going for it are reliable veteran film tough guys, Kurt Russell and Jason Statham. “Handsome Rob” is playing the villain here. He is an unstoppable tornado of violence that kills at the drop of a hat. It looks like in the introduction there is already a body count in the dozens and the movie is just starting. I like Statham as a tough guy and he is appropriately menacing in this, however, he is much like one of the vehicles that gets thrown into the story, indestructible because it would slow things down. His character shows up in places that he has no reasonable ability to be and we never see any planning from this bastardized version of James Bond. The most elite military teams in the world can hit him with a single shot despite the presence of dozens of  high tech weapons. He is a cardboard bad guy made to a boogeyman that is hard to enjoy.

Mr. Russell shows up as a surrogate for Dwayne Johnson’s F.B.I. agent. The Rock’s character is sidelined early on but he did get a nice fight sequence with Statham and he picks up a big machine gun at the end of the movie and does the best impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger ever. Kurt is cool and smarmy and gets involved in only one real action scene and it is the most believable character arc in the story and it is ridiculous. Just having him swagger in and smile is worth whatever they paid him and I would not be surprised to see his character pop up again if the series gets another film, which given the box office seems inevitable.

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In a movie assembled from action pieces, strung together by oversimplified spy tropes, and depending on dialogue written as if it is going to be delivered in a big balloon over the characters head, the cast does what it can to sell the emotional components of the film. There is a nice epilogue with Paul walker that seems to be a fitting goodby to their co-worker. Now it is time to get back to work, crank out another one and make another couple of billion on the shallowest  movie franchise this side of “Scary Movie” parodies. The cheese is laid on thickly, and it goes down quickly and will not upset your stomach too much.