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.

Straight Outta Compton

August 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jason Mitchell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Friday”)
Written by: Jonathan Herman (debut) and Andrea Berloff (“World Trade Center”)

I’m probably too young and too white and nerdy to have been into—or even aware of—gangsta rap group N.W.A. at the height of their fame in the early ‘90s. I was a “Weird Al” Yankovic and They Might Be Giants fan, and being from South Texas as opposed to South Central, the death of Selena Quintanilla was a bigger factor in my life than the death of Eazy-E was five days earlier in March of 1995. But since I’m a human being in the United States tuned in to pop culture, the last two decades have left me familiar with the notable surviving members of N.W.A., Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, from the former’s softening into a mildly annoyed family movie star to the latter’s rise to the ranks of billionaire after unleashing Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Beats headphones into the world. Cube and Dre both serve as producers on “Straight Outta Compton,” a strikingly-good biopic on the rise of the “dangerous”  reality rap group and its late front man that roars out of the gate with ferocity until stalling in the home stretch as the two moguls paint their legacies on film in decidedly positive terms.

The opening shot of the film follows Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) through a drug deal in 1986 Compton, a tense situation broken up by an LAPD tank-mounted battering ram destroying the drug house. E escapes by the skin of his teeth, and the movie moves on to O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing his own father) writing rhymes on the school bus as it’s hijacked by gangbangers who threaten the teenagers on board throwing gang signs out the window. Finally we’re introduced to Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) grooving to R&B records on headphones, blissfully unaware that he’s missing a job interview set up by his mother, instead focusing on a DJ gig later at a nightclub where Dre plans on giving Ice Cube some time onstage to spit rhymes, much to the owner’s dismay. Realizing there may be a future in this rap game, Dre and Cube convince E to put up some of his drug money to record some songs. The track that gives the movie its title, “Straight Outta Compton,” is a mega-hit, attracting the attention of music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who sends the group on the road to both superstardom and inter-personal conflicts over money and respect spanning nine years.

With a first third that’s uniformly excellent, featuring electrifying live performance recreations and “aha!” moments behind famous lyrics, it allows for the film’s flaws in the last hour and a half to be more easily overlooked. By the time Ice Cube goes solo, punctuated with a fantastic back-and-forth sequence set to Cube’s epic diss track “No Vaseline,” the movie gets too caught up in both the back and forth of contract disputes and touching on seminal moments in gangsta rap history, like how Dre met both Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) and checking in on how Cube’s screenplay for “Friday” is coming along. The personalities of the surviving members feel a little sanitized, too, from the suspicious lack of drug use by a group fronted with drug money to the glossing over of real-life controversies like Cube’s anti-Semitism and Dre’s violence toward women. Only the character of Eazy-E gets any real conflict and nuance, probably only because he’s dead and has no million-dollar brand to protect (DJ Yella and MC Ren are firmly in “…and the rest” territory as far the movie is concerned).  But history is written by the winners, and the story we’re left with is a really great one.

Law Abiding Citizen

October 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”)

It’s evident in the opening scene of “Law Abiding Citizen” that director F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”) wants to move the film along at a fairly quick pace. It would have been beneficial, however, if he and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”) actually looked before they leaped into a story buried in illogical scenarios and faux moral empathy. Instead, the two lunge forward without haste and end up turning an interesting idea into an absurd revenge flick mismatched with psychological mayhem.

Ten years after the brutal murders of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) resurfaces to avenge their deaths by bringing down not only the two men who committed the crimes, but also the judicial system that failed to bring any closure to his personal tragedy.

When one of the killers agrees to testify against his accomplice, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal that sends one man to death row and the other to prison for a short stay because of his testimony.

“Some justice is better than no justice at all,” Nick explains.

The loophole in the system doesn’t sit well with Clyde who, after a decade, comes out of mourning just in time to violently punish his family’s murderers. But that’s not nearly enough payback for Nick. He is also seeking vengeance against everyone involved in the case including the defending lawyer, the presiding judge, and the entire District Attorney’s Office. If that’s not daring enough, Clyde has chosen to pull all this off in the confines of a prison cell.

As he mysteriously carries out vengeful death after vengeful death behind bars, Clyde continues to be an enigma for Nick who can’t figure out how he is methodically picking off his colleagues and friends. More important than the kills themselves is whether or not Clyde’s tactical marathon of death will makes much sense once his means are revealed.

Sadly, when that moment comes, the twist in the story is rather lame. While the build-up is sometimes entertaining in short spurts, there’s nothing remotely believable in the payoff. Even when an explanation for Clyde’s talents is exposed, it’s washed over as if screenwriter Wimmer was embarrassed of his own plot choices.

And well he should be. “Law Abiding Citizen” isn’t ashamed to profess its desire to be as intelligent of a crime thriller as “Seven” or “Silence of the Lambs,” but with a loosey-goosey script and a laughable take on social issues the movie ends up stuck in wannabe status without any chance of parole.