Tag Archives: D

FAST X

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

Grade: D

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.

QUASI

Producers: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Phil Hudson, Sam Hurwitz, Steve Lemme, Matthew Medlin, Richard Perello, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske   Director: Kevin Heffernan  Screenplay: Broken Lizard (Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske)   Cast: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Adrianna Palicki, Eugene Cordero and Marcus Henderson   Distributor: Hulu/Searchlight Pictures

Grade: D

Anyone familiar with comedy troupe Broken Lizard’s previous movies, like “Super Troopers,” “Club Dread” and “Beer Fest,” will know what to expect from “Quasi”—plenty of raunchy, gross-out gags and deliberately tasteless humor.  This time around, though, the action is set in a thirteenth-century France that will be unfamiliar to medievalists but perhaps will strike a chord with fans of Monty Python.  It’s a distinction that makes no difference, though, because “Quasi” is as bad as the group’s earlier movies.  In Latin “quasi” means “as if”—e.g., “as if this movie were any good.”

But the title doesn’t refer to that adverb.  It’s short for Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s hunchback of Notre Dame, who’s here played by Steve Lemme.  He’s apparently retired—the obviously meager budget could never have sustained sets of the majestic cathedral and its bell tower—and taken a job in the king’s torture research room, where he and his hut mate Duchamp (Kevin Heffernan, who also directs, leadenly) test instruments, including the rack Quasi invented to pull out his hump (it didn’t work), on hapless volunteers like Michel (Erik Stolhanske), who grins happily as he gets progressively taller through the movie, until at the end it interferes with his burial.  (The masochism-as-joke was far funnier when Jack Nicholson and Steve Martin did it in the two versions of “The Little Shop of Horrors.”)

Quasi unexpectedly wins the “Papal Lottery” (presumably a nonsensical reference to indulgences) with a ticket bought by Duchamp, an accident that causes friction between the two when it makes Quasi a celebrity.  It entitles him to a private audience with Pope Cornelius (Paul Soter), and King Guy (Jay Chandrasekhar) enlists him to assassinate the pontiff during it.  The plan goes awry, and Cornelius in turn order Quasi to assassinate the king.  Also involved in the machinations is Guy’s new English wife Catherine (Adrianne Palicki), who becomes Quasi’s romantic interest and discovers something important about his genealogy while they’re making love.

It would be tedious to unravel the convolutions of the plot, laid out with a degree of ham-fistedness that’s brutally accentuated by the in-your-face performances and sodden direction.  The entire thing plays like a badly-improvised Comedy Club skit dragged out interminably, the actors reciting their lame jokes and then pausing as though anticipating laughs that never come.  It doesn’t help that the troupe’s five “stars” all take multiple roles, with Chandrasekhar also appearing as the owner of the bar that serves as a “Cheers”-like meeting place, Heffernan as the king’s stuffy aide, Lemme as the royal jester, Soter as Quasi’s boss in the torture room, and Stolhanske as the cardinal who’s always at the pope’s side.  In all ten parts their exaggerated, rubber-faced turns feel as though they’re designed for a stage, with a need to project to the last role of a distant balcony.  Up close they’ll likely cause you to cringe—with Lemme’s squashed-mouth Quasi, played for comic grotesquerie, completely misguided but the others not far behind.  Only Palicki, who wisely underplays, survives with her dignity intact.

The threadbare production mirrors the utter lack of inspiration in the script.  For the record Bianca Ferro was the production designer responsible for sets so shabby they look like something your kids might cobble together in the back yard, and costumer Kelly Kwon appears to have favored used potato sacks and the costume rooms of impoverished local theatre companies for her work.  Joe Collins’ cinematography is cramped and claustrophobic, Frank McGrath’s editing should have cut some of the dead space that follows what passes for mirth-inducing gags, and Jason Akans’ score is instantly forgettable.                

In his opening narration Brian Cox, who (having suffered the indignity of being in both “Super Trooper” movies) has the wisdom not to appear onscreen here, informs us that the thirteenth century sucked.  To say that the movie does too wouldn’t be wide of the mark.