Film Review: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba
Directed by: David Leitch
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 137 minutes
Universal Pictures

At this point, all that’s missing from the “Fast and the Furious” franchise is a TV show, Saturday morning cartoon, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and breakfast cereal. The unexpected Universal Pictures franchise has its first spin-off, giving the two men who helped rejuvenate the series their own side adventure. Luke Hobbs’ (Johnson) affable character pairs naturally with the rough around the edges Deckard Shaw (Statham). The two have spent the last two movies at each other’s throats in a jokingly, sometimes serious, manner. So it’s a little disappointing to see them relatively toothless and hollowed out in “Hobbs & Shaw”.

Their characters remain the same, but we spend a little too much time with them, making these godlike characters a bit more human. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having them play into the long steady “family” trope of this franchise feels disingenuous. The two feel more like ancillary characters that were created to offset the eye-rolling “we’re all family” dynamic that Vin Diesel’s character has yammered on about for years. Seeing Hobbs and Shaw degraded to that level may play to the franchise’s hardcore fanbase, but not for the casual fan like me who enjoys these movies as mindless eye candy. Also, there’s only so many times we can hear Hobbs and Shaw verbally get out the measuring sticks for their manhood.

As for the story, it’s somewhat interesting, building off of “The Fate of the Furious.” The bad guy of this film, Brixton Lore (Elba), works for a secret dark web syndicate known as Etheon. Lore is part man, part android, to the point where I’m glad Hobbs name drops “The Terminator.” Lore is on the hunt for a virus that could be weaponized to eliminate the “weak” parts of the human population, i.e. mass extinction for the betterment of humanity. But before Lore can get his superhuman mitts on it, an MI6 agent injects herself with it so that Etheon can’t obtain it. Of course, who that MI6 agent is, is a twist. I won’t spoil it, but you should be able to figure out who it is before it’s revealed, if you’re operating your brain at a primitive level.

Putting aside my opening salvo, I think this movie is still enjoyable because of how absurd it is, like when Hobbs tackles assailants scaling down the side of skyscraper and landing without a scratch on top of an SUV several stories below. My qualm is that the action pieces never really reach the highs that we’ve seen before in this franchise, specifically when Justin Lin and James Wan were behind the camera. Director David Leitch gives the duo plenty of fun settings to blow-up and chase sequences for audiences to ogle at, but none of them quite have that spectacular oomph that we’ve come to know and love. Even some of the lesser movies of this franchise have that memorable moment of Herculean feats or car acrobatics, but this one didn’t quite land one. Luckily the film stops short of dragging to the two and a half hour mark, so you don’t begin to get sore in your seat from its CGI fireworks. 

“Hobbs & Shaw” delivers enough mindless fun, ludicrous fight and action sequences, and wink-at-the-camera cameos to put a smile on even the curmudgeonliest of viewers. While it sometimes lacks in those aforementioned categories, it never feels unnecessary, especially since it’s a franchise stuffed with preposterous reasoning and farcical realism; Common sense be damned. Just like the rest of the franchise, “Hobbs & Shaw” doesn’t benefit from the viewer attempting to apply any kind of logic. Once you flip that switch on, you can’t unflip it. So setting your brain to cruise control is the optimum way of enjoying “Hobbs and Shaw.” Enjoy it for what it is, big, dumb action porn.

Film Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 136 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

“The Fast and the Furious” franchise experienced a Renaissance when it embraced mindless action and over the top stunts, combining CGI with a real-life demolition derby, back when “Fast 5” was released. Since then it’s embraced this absurd concept that the fate of the world rests in the hands of speed junkies that refer to themselves as a close-knit family. Its intentional cheesiness allowed us to ignore the laws of physics and embrace these street racers turned globetrotting heroes. But “Fate of the Furious” stomps on the brakes by hovering precariously close to taking itself too seriously.

Dom (Diesel) is approached by a mysterious figure known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), while on his honeymoon in Cuba. Without the audience seeing it, a cellphone video convinces Dom to betray his “family,” go rogue and work for Cipher. Die-hard “Fast and the Furious” fans, who accept its cheese or eat it up like housewives munching on daytime soap operas, will certainly have their eyes glued to the screen as the betrayal unfolds. I, on the other hand, rolled my eyes and began waiting patiently for some neat explosions.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot in-depth because much of the movie hinges on why Dom is going rogue and Cipher’s connection to the greater world that’s been established through eight movies now. For a movie franchise about fast cars, scantily clad women, and explosions, there’s a surprising amount of depth within it’s pulpy drama, much like WWE’s Wrestlemania. That’s not lost on people who’ve spent over a decade and half with the group, or newcomers who’ve embraced it recently.

Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, and a handful of other side characters are back to appease fans who’ve stuck with the franchise since 2001. For those who aren’t familiar with the franchise, or have lazily watched them throughout the years like me, the paper thin plot and lack of meaningful development is still hanging in there. That’s actually a positive since anything more would have otherwise made the series unnapproachable as time went on.

The main problem is that “Fate of the Furious” tows the self-serious line it found itself on the wrong side of before “Fast Five.” Viewers are treated to exposition that feels like a lecture, instead of fast cuts that visually summarize our new villain, the story’s direction, or the plot. It’s a real drag when characters are reduced to robotic dialogue and technobabble during 30 minutes of talking; much like listening to two computers share data. It kills the adrenaline, especially after watching dozens of self-driving cars cause mayhem on the streets of New York City or a prison break highlighting Statham’s parkour fighting abilities.

Most of the cast knows they’re making a dumb movie and roll around in the scenery, chewing on bits and pieces while in their million dollar speed racers or while breathlessly fighting in ice covered Russia. Statham and Johnson are the best at this. Maybe they should have instructed Diesel and Rodriguez on how to liven up a little. Because Diesel is now the driving force, and one of the producers of the franchise and this film, his character has been place under the microscope. It’s a near fatal mistake assuming that the audience cares about him. People connect more with Johnson’s soccer dad persona and Statham’s hard-ass with a soft spot more than Diesel’s stoic demeanor. It appears that the loss of Paul Walker has left a big hole in the storytelling department.

“The Fate of the Furious” is an entertaining distraction that tragically relies more heavily on its slow storytelling pace, rather than its edge of your seat action. Despite its flaws, there are very few movies being given blank checks so that their characters can face off against a thermal nuclear Russian submarine with only nitrous powered cars at their disposal. The high of “Furious 7” makes “Fate of the Furious” a letdown, but the character’s affinity and eye popping action are enough to make it a passable addition to the franchise.