“The Fast and the Furious” series, which is now up to eight movies with new entry “The Fate of the Furious,” has become a commercial institution. Arguments have been offered that the multi-racial cast of these films have made them particularly appealing to a new generation of moviegoer, but the main thing that people are going to see again and again is cars racing and cars flying through the air.
Star Vin Diesel refers to them as a “saga,” and he emphasizes that they are about family, a ham-handed theme that is hit home many times in between those cars flying through the air.
These pictures have gotten increasingly overblown and overlong, and they have worked their way through four separate directors, so that this eighth “Furious” film is entrusted to “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray. Kurt Russell joined up on “Furious 7” and returns for this installment, which adds some bona fide female star names to the cast: Charlize Theron and even Dame Helen Mirren, who turns up in just about anything nowadays.
There are around 3 ½ separate movies that happen here, the first of which is a short jaunt to Cuba where Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are taking a honeymoon. After a quick and uninspiring speed race, Dom is waylaid by the villainous Cipher (Theron), a blank-eyed sociopath with long blond hair who blackmails Dom into doing her dastardly bidding. Theron really does seem to be taking this evil role very seriously and provides a certain center of gravity to a film that badly needs it.
The old gang is rounded up yet again, and Mirren makes a brief appearance as the mother of Jason Statham’s character Deckard. Between Statham, Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Tyrese Gibson, a case could be made that this movie is not about family but about a quartet of bald men who feel the need to act as macho as possible.
There is only one inventive action sequence here, a car destruction derby in Manhattan where Theron’s Cipher manages to make cars “rain” out of buildings, but these impressive visuals founder due to a basic lack of plausibility. There are some pedestrians on the streets during this lengthy chase, yet none of them ever seem like they are truly in the way of all these cars zooming past them or falling out of the sky. This sequence would have been improved if Gray had moved it more swiftly to the outskirts of the island, near the water.
A jaunt through Russia and a chase over ice are far less interesting, and the plot twists in “The Fate of the Furious” suggest the kind of games that 11-year-old boys put together on the playground during recess, with women in peril and so many different parts for everyone to play that you begin to lose track of who everybody is and who they are supposed to be to each other. When this gets to be too much, of course, another car will soon be sailing through the air to distract us.
The title of this new entry is faintly ridiculous. (Could “The Flame and the Flesh of the Furious” be next?) And it begs the question: is the fate of the “Furious” series inexorably tied to bigger productions, longer running times, and larger stars? The plots of these films have never been too strong or too urgent, and the sometimes-soapy plotlines have a way of disappearing into action scenes that are more or less coherent, depending on who is directing the picture. There aren’t too many modern movies that have used amnesia as a plot device, but the “Furious” series has no shame about things like that.
When a series of films goes on for as long as this one has, an inevitable part of the experience centers on the way that the characters and the actors age, and also on more serious losses. Paul Walker, who starred in most of the earlier movies, died in a car crash in 2013, and his role in “Furious 7” was completed by using doubles and some CGI. This brush with mortality has affected this current picture enough that they have decided to name a new character after Walker’s character Brian.
And so the “Furious” series tries to have its heart in the right place, but only so that the pedal can be put to the metal for many more years and films to come.