If Fidel weren’t already dead, the opening of the latest entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise would kill him.
Yes, this installment’s exotic guest opening location is Cuba. Dom and Letty (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying a sojourn in Havana. There’s a little romance–and some portentous talk about having a baby–but the main action, as is usual with these pictures, is behind the wheel. Dom ends up in a crazy race across the city which ends just as you’d expect, with one of the cars in flames and Dom victorious. (Spoiler alert: Dom always wins.) And a lot of innocent Cubans are displaced and inconvenienced. For a city with as much political iconography as Havana, we don’t see much, just a glimpse of a portrait of Che. Like I said, it would have killed Fidel.
Soon enough, however, things get complicated. The thing about a franchise that’s lasted as long as this is, there are a plethora of characters and a boatload of backstory. (And, Lord, this film’s overloaded with characters.) The filmmakers have to deal with this just enough to engage and/or not annoy the audience, while never losing focus on what makes these films go: cars. Yeah, it’s nice to see the likes of Rodriguez or Jason Statham behind the wheel–because they are actors I enjoy watching–but the important thing? The Lamborghinis, the Challengers, the God only knows what else racing and exploding across the screen.
There is a lot of plot. The trailer teased it quite well: Charlize Theron has somehow wrapped Dom around her little finger, turning him into a double-crossing villain. I swear, from the clips in the preview, I was convinced that Diesel’s character was drugged, or had some kind of fancy evil computer chip implanted in his brain and Theron’s character Cipher was controlling him that way. Alas, the explanation is more predictable and mundane, and Diesel seems like a robot simply because he’s sleepwalking, giving a lousy performance.
There are a lot of actors around; most get a few good lines. Statham’s great as usual; Tyrese Gibson gets the best jokes; Theron manages to keep a straight face; Kurt Russell seems really pleased to be getting a check; there’s a terrific surprise cameo about halfway through; and The Rock way overdoes it.
The funniest thing is that the film’s showstopping set piece doesn’t need actors at all, as a fleet of hacker-controlled self-driving cars converge, murderously, on midtown Manhattan. It’s laugh-out-loud delightful.
What The Fate of the Furious lacks is any sense of momentum. We know that there will be another sequel in two years; we just aren’t given any reason to be excited about it.
The Fate of the Furious, directed by F. Gary Gray, Universal Pictures