Review: 'The Fate of the Furious'

The car crash franchise returns for yet another lap round the track
Jack Lowden plays Tommy Morris—a low-born Scottish caddy, who rises beyond his station to change golf forever.

Are you serious, Fate of the Furious? Elitists underestimated the appeal of movies with bald musclemen yelling at each other, interspersed with CG-wrought scenes of half-million-dollar cars dancing like the Royal Lipizzaners.

It commences in Havana, as drone shots of roofs merge surreally with slo-mo close-ups of one of those pop-up open-air strip clubs the city is so famous for. Dom (Vin Diesel) is on an improbable honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). If Diesel's mind seems elsewhere—a polite way to describe watching Vin Diesel act—he's distracted by problems. His cuz is about to lose his car over a gambling debt. So Dom stocks his cousin's rusty wreck with NOX and drives it until it becomes a flaming wreck on the Malecon, destroying the car to save it.

Meanwhile, Luke (Dwayne Johnson) is trying to teach a group of soccer kids the haka—that Polynesian war dance thing that New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, do to paralyze opponents with fright. Barely has The Rock rolled his tongue back into his head when some damn government man, coyly calling himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) extorts him into action. The FF team is sought to rescue a Class Four weapon of Mass Destruction from some undifferentiated villains in Berlin. The distraction part of the theft gives Berlin its fieriest night in 70 years. During the course of the robbery, Dom double-crosses the gang. This time, the team takes one for him! "Dominic Toretto just went rogue!"

Architect of this roguery is a computer terrorist who calls herself Cypher, because the name Le Chiffre was taken. The white-dreadlocked genius (Charlize Theron) lives in an airplane and seeks to swipe an atomic bomb. Why? Her evil-genius speech claims she is "holding governments accountable"—they used to quote Nietzsche, and now they sound like a public interest group.

Only the kidnapping of someone close to Dom could have caused that stalwart to betray his car-swiping, terrorist-thwarting family. Could it be a wife? A child? It's both. Cypher goes on about something called "choice theory." F. Gary Gray's direction shows his command of choice theory in the way he answers every question in the movie with "both." Continuing the getting-the-band-back-together part of the show, Jason Statham gets over the I-don't-like-you-and-you-don't-like-me dynamics with The Rock, the defacto leader of the Furiosos, until Dom comes to his senses.

Things move apace whenever Fate of the Furious starts to wander away from the territory of The Message: Namely, that family is important, The Furious choose their own fate, and they can still be outlaws even if they're doing exactly what the government tells us them to do. It also gives small parts for actors whose time might be spent better elsewhere, as per Helen Mirren's role as Statham's auld mom.

One falls into a trap by talking about the actors instead of cars. Autos cascade like a waterfall from the top of a parking garage; sometimes their on-board computers are cyber-jacked so that they besiege midtown Manhattan in an attack wave of shiny expensive plastic and chrome.

In this synthetic weightless car ballet, little occurs to disturb the ghost of junkyard owner/auteur H.B. Halicki (the original Gone in 60 Seconds). There is wit here: say, a smiley face painted on a house-size wrecking ball, and "UNDISCLOSED LOCATION" as the caption on an establishing shot. The finale involves a chicken fight with an atomic submarine on the Russian ice. A blurb-whore might reach back to Sergei Eisenstein: "Fate of the Furious out-Nevskys Alexander Nevsky!"

Missing, of course, is the late Paul Walker, acknowledged both in dialogue—"Brian would know what to do"—and in an aw-shucks finale. All they can do now is merge with The Expendables and head for outer space. Fate is the 180 degree reversal of the pompous luxury car commercial, with its squandered Oscar-winning actor reciting Walt Whitman. Instead, it's a roaring mess supercharged with spurious emotion and Vin Diesel's croaks of revenge—a spectacle of what looks like Matchbox cars in a blender.

The Fate of the Furious
PG-13, 136 Mins.

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