Perhaps the biggest mistake the “Fast and Furious” franchise ever made was in “F9: The Fast Saga,” when the characters suddenly became self-aware and realized that after all the physics-defying vehicular mayhem they’ve been through, they always miraculously emerge unscathed.
How could they have defied the odds for so long? Are they truly immortal or are they merely blessed with impenetrable plot armor? And if any of those things are true why should the audience care one whit about what happens to them? Especially when even the characters who do die usually come back after a sequel or two.
“F9” made a convincing case for letting this whole “Fast and Furious” series finally end. But just when you thought it was okay to check out, “Fast X” pulls you back in. Louis Leterrier’s installment does an impressive job of making all the old nonsense make a little bit of sense again. It’s got the absurd action sequences we’ve come to expect, but instead of following a small army of unstoppable heroes, Letterier’s film casts them as underdogs against an even more unstoppable villain.
Jason Momoa takes center stage in “Fast X” as Dante, the son of the bad guy from “Fast Five,” who’s been planning his revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his extended family for ten years. Dante’s scheme is so convoluted it’s best not to even think about it. Suffice it to say that if the Toretto clan has plot armor, Dante has plot explosives. Every time something seems to be going right it’s because Dante’s about to make it ten times worse.
After a high speed heist in Rome goes horribly wrong, Dominic and his many cronies become the most wanted criminals on Earth. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) gets sent to a super secret prison. Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Han (Sung Kang) cavort through the London criminal underground. Jakob (John Cena) — who is still Dominic’s brother and we’re still supposed to be okay with that — ends up on the run with his nephew, Little B (Leo Abelo Perry, “Cheaper By the Dozen”).
And since the “Fast and the Furious” movies have a larger ensemble cast than “As the World Turns” did in its prime, the film also makes room for the return of Cipher (Charlize Theron), Deckard (Jason Statham), Queenie (Helen Mirren), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), and some new international superspies played by Brie Larson and Alan Ritchson (“Reacher”). They all have something to actually do, if you can believe it.
The screenplay by Justin Lin, who directed five of the previous installments (six if you include the indie “Better Luck Tomorrow,” which introduced the character of Han), and Dan Mazeau (“Wrath of the Titans”) does the usual “Fast” schtick of concocting bizarre new vehicle-based set pieces and writing a plot that works its way around them.
That is no easy feat, and it takes smart writing to get away with this movie’s silliness. There’s a monologue Alan Ritchson has where he explains the bizarre story of how street racers stealing DVD players gradually became international superspies who flew into outer space and for a second it almost makes this whole series seem plausible. There should be a special Oscar for exposition that good.
There should also be a special Oscar for Jason Momoa’s wardrobe, because no other character in the history of blockbuster cinema has ever looked this comfortably tailored. There isn’t an inch of fabric on this guy that doesn’t billow.
Momoa plays Dante like Bugs Bunny sold his soul to the devil. He’s omnipotent and he loves it. He’s a bag of Funyuns with none of the yuns. He’s the polar opposite of Dominic Toretto, wild instead of taciturn, colorful instead of monochrome, femme instead of masc. More, please, I beg of you, and if Momoa could bring some of the same camp energy to the next “Aquaman” while you’re at it, we’d be ever so grateful.
It’s been less than 24 hours since the screening of “Fast X” and already the plot is fading from memory, but the sensation of it all lingers in a pleasing, buzzy way. Everything that works about the “Fast” movies is here, and most of the junk that doesn’t is either gone or quickly brushed aside in favor of something better.
The action sequences are still trying to pick a fight with every physics professor in the world, but this time they’re here because they make the story fun, not because the story was so awful the audience needed a distraction. And if you gave any damns whatsoever about these characters, they’re all here, they’re all a delight and most of them get to do cool stuff in cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and — most importantly — a theater near you.