Totally Mindless but Frequently Quite Funny
Times were so much simpler when the Fast & Furious franchise first got underway back in 2001. The tragic events of 9/11 had not yet complicated our world, $150 million + movie budgets weren't commonplace, and VCR players were the much-coveted electronic items of the day as we watched Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) track down Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) truckload of VCRs. Yes, it was “VCR” long ago. It was also a much simpler time for the F&F franchise itself as all that was needed to knock our socks off was to point the camera at a bunch of alpha males driving fast in badass cars.
Well, the times have changed. Movie budgets have continued to soar, and truckloads of stolen TV/VCR combos have been replaced by cyber-genetic anarchists, rogue MI6 agents, and top-secret bio weapons in this spin-off from the Fast & Furious franchise, a film awkwardly titled Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. But even more amazing than what’s changed since this series first found its wheels back in 2001, is how very few original elements remain from the series’ origin. Sure, this is a spin-off expected to explore new territory, and there are undeniably plenty of white-knuckle car stunts and motorcycle chases to please the loyalists. But sorely missing is the genuine heart of those early installments as well as the big, bold themes of loyalty, values, and love of family that so endeared us to the franchise over the past eighteen years. Sadly, we’ve now ventured into what feels like some kind of lesser James Bond or M:I knock-off territory
That’s not to say there isn’t any fun to be had with Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. There is. In fact, some of the film’s most enjoyable moments are those in which the main stars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham appear to be having a total blast playing Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw respectively. Hobbs is a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service who must team up with former enemy and British military elite operative Shaw, to bring down the cyber-genetically enhanced Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba) who has recently gained control of a dangerous bio-weapon that could change the world forever.
Hobbs and Shaw are two alpha males who can’t stand one another, yet still harbor a sliver of mutual respect between themselves. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) and screenwriter Chris Morgan (The Fate of the Furious) know what they have with these characters and fortunately turn Johnson and Statham loose to play on that rivalry and tension. What results are some of the films best moments as their adversarial chemistry makes the moments sandwiched between machine gun fire and revving engines much more enjoyable. Another of the film’s major coups is its eagerness to recognize and revel in its own absurdity. Yes, it is totally mindless and all kinds of dumb. But it is also frequently quite funny.
To be altogether fair and honest about the film’s missing family elements, there is a final scene that features Hobbs, Shaw and company retreating to Hobb’s family compound in Samoa where he hasn’t been in 25 years. He only returns there because he needs his engineer brother Jonah’s (Cliff Curtis) help in extracting the deadly virus from rogue MI6 agent Hattie’s (Vanessa Kirby) hand. Don’t ask. Though a bit too late to make up for lost sentiment, the visit gives not only the actor Johnson an opportunity to recognize his Samoan heritage, but it also injects the proceedings with some of that good ol’ family heart.
At two hours and 15 minutes, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is way too long and begins to wear out its welcome well before the 90-minute mark. It is a bit more slick and polished than most of the previous films in the franchise, and as expected, it is loaded with numerous over-the-top action set pieces that, despite several bits of questionable logic (the helicopter scene) and shaky CGI, are breathtaking in their own right. Regardless, when all is said and done, the entire thing crashes and burns into a heap of crumpled intentions and unmet expectations.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.