Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Justin Lin, Jeff Kirschenbaum and Samantha Vincent Director: Louis Leterrier Screenwriters: Justin Lin and Dan Mazeau Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jason Momoa, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, John Cena, Jason Statham, Sung Kang, Alan Ritchson, Leo Abelo Perry, Daniela Melchior, Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, Brie Larson, Luis Da Silva Jr., Michael Rooker and Rita Moreno Distributor: Universal Pictures
It may be hard to believe now, but the “Fast and Furious” franchise, which reaches its tenth installment with this all-too-cutely titled, totally brainless behemoth, began in 2001 with a comparatively cheesy muscle-car movie about an undercover cop who infiltrated a gang of street racers with a sideline in crime. Over time what started as a slicker version of a Roger Corman potboiler morphed into a “Mission Impossible” wannabe, with Vin Diesel, as “family” head Dom Toretto, putting Tom Cruise to shame only in terms of stern inexpressiveness. The plots grew ever more ludicrous, the interrelationships among characters ever more convoluted, and the stunts ever more preposterous as the budgets ballooned to astronomical levels. It’s telling that this tenth movie in the franchise cost nearly ten times as much as the first one did, but provides less entertainment value—a damning statement, since “The Fast and the Furious” was itself no prize.
The plot is a simple revenge tale, introduced by a long segment from 2011’s “Fast Five,” a goodly portion of the culminating heist of the vault containing the consolidated cash of Brazilian drug lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who dies in pursuit of his treasure. But the footage is altered to insert the figure of Reyes’ son Dante (Jason Momoa) and one other person who shall remain nameless to avoid spoiling one of the screenplay’s supposed surprises.
Ten years later, Dante returns, having mapped out a plan to make Dom suffer by targeting his family—not only his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry), as well as his brother Jake (John Cena) and sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), though thankfully his tough grandmother (Rita Moreno, introduced in an early cameo) seems to be absent from the list—but his “extended” one, which basically means his entire team and former associates. These include Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and his partner in bickering Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), computer wiz Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Han (Sung Kang). Along the way Shaw (Jason Statham), the absent Mr. Nobody’s lieutenant (Scott Eastwood), mechanic Buddy (Michael Rooker) and even Queenie (Helen Mirren) make reappearances, though in the last three cases very brief ones. Another returnee shows up in the sequel-promising clip in the closing credits, but who won’t be revealed here.
Then there are newcomers: Tess (Brie Larson), Mr. Nobody’s daughter; Aimes (Alan Ritchson), the new head of Mr. Nobody’s agency; and Isabel (Daniela Melchior), a Brazilian street racer who turns out to have a family connection to Dom.
That’s a huge ensemble to manage, and the screenplay–credited to Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin (who was originally scheduled to direct but pulled out of the project over the usual “creative differences,” replaced by Louis Leterrier, at best a journeyman action helmer who’s also talked about his rewriting of the script)–has trouble shoehorning them into a single narrative and providing each with something substantial to do. The solution is to toss in lots of fights, car chases, races and big action set-pieces that all can engage in, in various combinations, even if why some of them happen is a mystery. Apparently the disparate episodes are all integral parts of Dante’s master plan, which seems to depend on everyone doing precisely what he predicts from moment to moment.
In any event, Dante begins by confronting Cipher (Charlie Theron), one of Dom’s enemies, and stealing some tech gizmo that gives him control over seemingly everything. He then starts the ball rolling, literally as well as figuratively, by using it to lure the team to Rome, where he arranges for them to be accused of terrorism for sending a gigantic round neutron bomb careening around the streets of Rome and threatening to blow up the Vatican until Dom stops it with his magical driving skill.
That pits the crew against the authorities, including Aimes and his agency, and leads to face-offs all over the globe, from Portugal to Antarctica. At one point some of the gang retreat to a place run by a shifty character (Pete Davidson) to secure some needed equipment, which raises the question of who would be stupid enough to trust anybody played by Pete Davidson. Dom stops off in Rio, too, where there’s an impromptu, raucously colorful drag race featuring him, Dante, Isabel and Diogo (Luis Da Silva Jr.), another returnee from “Fast Five.” Everything culminates in a confrontation involving Dom, Jake, Brian and Dante atop a dam, which ends in what’s probably the series’ most absurd escape-by-car.
That finale, and the big action moments elsewhere, are marked by special effects that are, to put it charitably, mediocre. The explosions and vehicular crashes look fine enough—they’re basically real wastes of autos, after all—but the CGI accompanying them is often second-rate (like the car superimposed over the carnage at the very end), a surprise considering the mega-budget. Otherwise the technical crew—production designer Jan Roelfs and cinematographer Stephen Windon—do a decent job, though editors Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto can’t bring coherence to either the mishmash of plot or the overextended set-pieces. Brian Tyler’s score is a model of empty bombast, like the movie it serves.
As to the acting, everybody does what’s expected of them, reciting the insipid, frequently laughable (and not in a good way) dialogue as required; Cena at least brings some amiability to Uncle Jake. Diesel is his customary stiff, brawny self, stone-faced but for the slight smile he occasionally shows to his kid (Perry, much less adorable than intended) and grandmother, and declaiming Dom’s frequent dull encomia to family in stentorian monotone. Frankly, the series has missed the presence of the likable Walker since his untimely death.
In any event, the real star of this installment is the villain, and as Dante, Momoa gives a performance so ostentatiously awful that you’d swear he was actively campaigning for a Razzie. In a film that’s over-the-top, he might be described as over-over-the-top, fiendishly grinning and flamboyantly swishing his way through every unbelievable plot twist. It’s a thoroughly corrupt piece of work, offensive in its dependence on hoary old stereotypes rather than funny, and by the end it has become pretty much insufferable.
But apparently he’ll be back in the second part of this multi-episode finale, which—if reports are correct—may extend to a third chapter as well. That’s a cruel threat, given that the “Fast” series is already running on fumes that are fast approaching the point of noxiousness.