The eighth installment of the Fast and Furious series is distinguished by stunts so absurd they could only have been accomplished by someone sitting at a computer, and by lines of dialogue so absurd they could only have been crafted by someone sitting at a computer doing tequila shots.
The undoable stunts are standard blockbuster fare, appropriate for what are now essentially superhero flicks about guys who drive fast cars. But there's something more endearing about the self-consciously awful dialogue of The Fate of the Furious, directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton). It's a throwback to the series' unassuming B-movie roots, and a few selected lines from the film may just tell you all you need to know.
"You've earned my car. And my respect." Early in the film, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) hears this from a grizzled Havana street racer whose sneaky tactics he's just beaten fair and square. In the simple ethical system of these movies, all it takes is mutual respect to turn antagonists into allies.
But Dom is about to meet someone who doesn't play by those rules: an evil hacker in clubwear (Charlize Theron) who calls herself Cipher and likes to pontificate about choice theory. She uses the one thing in the world Dom loves more than cars (guess: it starts with F) to force him to do her bidding and turn against his beloved crew. It'll take a team-up of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jason Statham and Dame Helen Mirren to solve this one!
"The only thing I love more than saving the world is my daughter." So says Johnson, playing a federal agent who does, once again, save the world in this movie. Fate actually gives us the dream team-up described above, without discarding any of its regular players (Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, etc.). The pursuit of Cipher — whose only stated goal is "accountability" — turns out to entail the destruction of a Russian missile base, chunks of Berlin and New York City, and countless vehicles.
"I said no, Mr. Nobody!" Johnson tosses this existentialist tidbit at Kurt Russell, playing the shadowy government operative who recruits him for the world saving. Mr. Nobody versus Cipher is a scenario straight out of comic-book panels, with all the internal mythology and a bit too much of the self-seriousness that entails. Dom Toretto used to be a reasonably charming working-class hero; now he glowers and sweats like Batman. Was that escalation necessary? Granted, Fast and Furious is all about more, bigger, faster, but perhaps this series needs to learn the art of saying no.
"It's zombie time." With these words, Cipher takes control of all New York's autonomous cars and unleashes a plague of driverless vehicles on the city. Marking the film's midpoint, it's a chaotic set piece that should have been more fun. The film's most enjoyable action sequences come earlier: a Havana street race as cheerily color-coordinated as La La Land; a prison riot that seems one catchy tune away from becoming a musical number.
Really, musical numbers are about all that Fast and Furious needs to fulfill its destiny as a monument to more. The sheer excess of this series that keeps pushing on the accelerator is, undeniably, kind of fun, and fans won't be disappointed. But it's a tiring kind of fun. Sooner or later, somebody is going to remember that being thrown from a moving car can kill you.