The Fate of the Furious

April 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Furious 7,” “Fast 5”)

I’ve run out of ways to express my bewilderment for “The Fast and the Furious” series, so, with the latest film, “The Fate of the Furious” fresh in my mind, I’m going to go back two years and re-purpose what I wrote about “Furious 7” because the exact same thoughts crossed my mind. Sue me:

“If nothing else, the evolution of the ‘Fast & Furious’ series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait. Is de facto family leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals?”

I fully admit, I don’t know how to deal with these movies. They baffle me. But I’ll be damned if the ramped-up cartoonish action of “The Fate of the Furious” didn’t come closer than the shaves on the scalps of the leading men to winning me over than most of the previous entries in the series, “Fast Five” excluded.

While on their honeymoon in Cuba, portrayed here as an eternal, multi-ethnic party where lawlessness is trumped by honor, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) do the usual American touristy things, like wearing linen and engaging in high-stakes street races with the island nation’s famously old vehicles. During a stroll to a bodega, Dom stumbles up a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows Dom something on a cell phone that’s enough to get him to betray his family (be ready to hear that word a lot) and help her execute her confusing world-domination plan.

Reminder: 16 years ago Dom was a street-racing gearhead who ran stolen DVD players. Anyway.

When Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his team to help swipe an EMP (again?) in an off-the-books mission that could send Hobbs to prison, Dom makes his move and Hobbs gets locked up. While inside he meets up with “Furious 7’s” villain Deckard (Jason Statham) who, while he still hates Hobbs, turns out to be a good guy now so that when they both are inevitably freed, he joins the team. Which seems sudden, but whatever.

Now Hobbs, Deckard, and the rest (including Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and a “Game of Thrones” actress, Nathalie Emmanuel, who reprises her role as an unconvincing hacker) have to take down Dom before he gathers enough weapons to start World War III on Cipher’s behalf.

Dom’s betrayal, especially as the dull, monosyllabic patriarch of the film’s oft-grunted-about family, is pretty thin gruel that no true fan will buy for a second, and new director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) knows it. Instead, he chooses to showcase things like a ridiculous cartoon prison brawl involving a raging, Hulked-out Johnson (the real star of the franchise now, let’s face it) deflecting rubber bullets and punching guards through walls in his pursuit of a parkour-ing Statham or some batshit lunacy involving hacked cars remotely chasing down a motorcade and driving themselves out of a high rise parking garage to trap a Russian ambassador under piles of burning metal. By the time a few characters blasted their way into frame via jetpacks, I was damn near won over.

By the time Dom’s plot is wrapped up, though, and the movie ends with a rooftop barbecue, the stupidity overwhelms you again, and you forget about the entire franchise for another two years.

Furious 7

April 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Directed by: James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Insidious: Chapter 2”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6”)

If nothing else, the evolution of the “Fast & Furious” series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait, is de facto family leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals? Oh, remember how much fun “Fast Five” was?

The seventh film in the franchise opens with villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vowing revenge on Dom and his family for what they did to Shaw’s brother Owen (Luke Evans) back in “Fast & Furious 6.” Don’t remember what happened in the last film? No big deal, because “Furious 7” doesn’t really care either. The film does do some serious continuity house-cleaning though, finally putting to rest the strangely out of timeline stinger of the third film, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” by sending Dom to Japan after Deckard kills Han (Sung Kang) and blows up Dom’s house in Los Angeles. After Han’s funeral, Dom confronts Deckard in a head-on collision, only to be interrupted by a black ops military team led by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody (ugh), who ultimately let Deckard slip away. But Nobody has a deal for Dom: track down a surveillance technology called God’s Eye and Dom can use it to find Deckard.

The dumb, convoluted mess of a plot notwithstanding, the biggest issue I had with “Furious 7” is the very real ghost of Paul Walker looming heavily over everything. Walker was killed during a high speed crash in a souped-up sports car during a break in filming “Furious 7” around Thanksgiving in 2013. Walker still had plenty of scenes left to shoot, and instead of scrapping the project and starting over, the filmmakers rewrote the script and finished Walker’s arc with his real-life brothers and digital masks as stand-ins. The knowledge of the late star’s tragic death from an automobile accident paints many of the film’s set pieces in a ghoulish light, namely the numerous thoroughly destructive car crashes scattered across the movie that characters walk away from without a scratch, including the Virtual Paul Walker, oddly and unsettlingly silent during too many scenes.

Diesel’s Dom goes on and on about family during the movie, and you can’t help but feel the real life loss of his friend Walker creep in over all the stupid plot points and impossibly ridiculous stunts he takes part in. There’s a real sadness here as the film works hard to retire Walker’s franchise-founding Brian O’Connor with old footage, computer graphics and the backs of other people’s heads. Maybe this is the catharsis Vin Diesel and fans needed to move forward, and maybe next time Dom and crew can have some fun again.

Fast and Furious

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster
Directed by: Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

The fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” is much like its three predecessors. The dialogue is flat, the CGI is passable at best, and the script seems to have been written in a garage full of exhaust, but that doesn’t mean mainstream fans of the high-octane series won’t come out in droves especially with the original cast back in the driver’s seat in “Fast and Furious.”

It’s been eight years since Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) shared the road together and things haven’t changed much since their first race through Los Angeles in 2001. That’s probably because “Fast and Furious” starts right where “The Fast and the Furious” left off. Forget “2 Fast 2 Furious” or “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” In the world of underground street racing, it’s like the other two never pulled out of pit row.

Banking on the idea that a reunion would revamp the parade of fast cars, easy women, and ethnic stereotypes these types of films are typically known for, everyone involved here seems to be on cruise control. It wouldn’t matter either way since screenwriter Chris Morgan, the scribe behind “Tokyo Drift,” could have Twittered this in and made just as much sense.

In 150 or less characters: Dominic is out for revenge when (spoiler alert) his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is gunned down (it happens early on, so get over it) by a drug cartel led by Campos (John Ortiz). The baddies are also part of a street-racing gang who Brian is tracking. Jordana Brewster returns as Mia, Dominic’s sister and Brian’s ex-girlfriend.

If it all sounds drearily similar that’s because it is. The only real different in this race is that the drivers take time to turn on their GPS devices before hitting the gas. If that’s not ridiculous enough, the most preposterous scene happens when Dominic figures out everything that happened the night Letty is murdered just by looking at tire marks on the road. If the action scenes aren’t painful enough, nothing says torture like watching Vin Diesel play thoughtful.

Wanted

June 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov (“Day Watch”)
Written by: Michael Brandt (“3:10 to Yuma”), Derek Haas (“3:10 to Yuma”), Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

A fast-paced and mostly ridiculous adrenaline rush through the streets of Chicago, “Wanted” tells the story of a bored-out-of-his-mind account manager who finds out that his life is about to get a little more exciting because of his bloodline.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) hates his job and his vicious boss, hates his nagging girlfriend for cheating on him with his best friend, and hates the fact that when he Googles his name, the Web site produces “No Results,” which basically tells him he hasn’t done anything with his life.

But when Wesley meets an assassin named Fox (Angelina Jolie) and discovers he was born to follow in his father’s footsteps as hired killer, he says goodbye to his 9 to 5 job and joins an underground fraternity where he is assigned to execute the man who ended his father’s life.

Reminiscent of the sharp narration of “Fight Club” in the film’s early scenes, “Wanted” is visual escapism at its most hyperactive. Beside aerodynamic sports cars and assassin maneuvers that defy the laws of gravity, which can be fun when they’re not too frenetic, a thin plot is what keeps “Wanted” stuck in neutral.