“I don’t know what I just saw. But I liked it!” That’s what movie fans will say collectively when they stagger out of the theater after being assaulted with adrenalin-pumping action scenes for 2h 21m.
It’s a formula that’s worked for 22 years, ever since The Fast and Furious premiered in 2001. Team up a crew of multicultural drivers and motorcyclists—aka street racers. Give em’ fast cars and bikes and an enemy to fight, then sit back and watch. This new edition follows that successful blueprint, reassembles the base cast and adds a few new characters.
Sitting in the director’s chair and manipulating all the incredible stunts, explosions, chases and elaborate fights takes guts, creatively and ambition. In that way, Louis Leterrier, who cut his teeth on Jason Statham films (The Transporter), is all business. Measure out mindboggling, over-the-top attacks, rescues and escapes throughout. Squeeze in a plot (co-writers Dan Mazeau, Justin Lin) about the leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his extended family being stalked and menaced by Dante (Jason Momoa), the son of a crimelord they once killed. Then let the bodies fall where they may. And they do. Ready, set, rob, smuggle and kill.
The gang is back together again. They look older. Muscles aren’t as defined as they used to be. Wrinkles are creeping in. But true fans won’t care. As the group sits at a picnic table in Los Angeles, eating, drinking and socializing, audiences know that these scenes of bliss will be few: Dom, his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). The always squabbling Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris). Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) the tech wizard and Han (Sung Kang) the fierce driver. The new edition is Dom’s young son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) and Queenie (Rita Moreno) is the matriarch.
Dante draws the group into traps, ambushes, shootouts and combat. You’d think he was trying to murder them all because they killed his dad: “My father was a horrible man. A bad daddy. You took him from me!” But he’s more intent on terrorizing his adversaries and making ‘em suffer, especially Dom: “You’re going to die knowing you couldn’t save your son!” Momoa is fun to watch and gets all the best lines. His interpretation of the villain is an over-affected combinations of Liberace and Prince. Campy flamboyant. Bright-colored nail polish, lavender shirts and purple trousers. He acts silly and effete but kills like a demonic sociopath.
Too much of Dom and the main characters’ dialogue is filled with action-film clichés and over-used metaphors. Sometimes it’s laughable. And Dom’s overuse of his “it’s all about family” mantra is turning him into a mockable caricature. The generic talk makes the characters seem cartoonish. That’s a pity because back in the day, these guys were laconic and real badasses.
The cast is wonderful to watch. Piling into the players box are Charlize Theron, Brie Larson, Scott Eastwood, Daniela Melchior, Jason Statham, Helen Mirren and John Cena. The ensemble is bigger than a football team, but it’s easy to track who’s who and what they do. So much of their wow factor comes from elaborate stunts in elaborately choreographed fight scenes. A high point is when Michele Rodriguez does a pinpoint, one-wheel 360 on a motorbike when an obstacle is thrown in her path. Acrobatic feats like that make the actors and their stunt doubles magicians. And though they are as fine as they can be, the tech team should be crowned MVPs.
Stephen F Windon’s nimble camera follows the fights, chases and comradery from California, to Rome, Portugal, Brazil and wherever the story leads. Dazzling overhead shots, aerial views and combat closeups. Brian Tyler’s toe-tapping, musical score and bass-heavy playlist add a relentless verve. Yes, some of the bricks in crashed-into walls look like foam rubber. But in general, the dank caves, high-tech rooms and lived-in houses look first-rate (production designer Jan Roelfs, Gattaca; set decorator Kimberley Fahey, Spider-Man: Far from Home). Costumes (Sanja Milkovic Hays, Captain Marvel), from puffy Antarctic coats and to skimpy Rio de Janeiro bikinis, are worn well. And film editors Dylan Highsmith and Kelly Matsumoto gut the footage down to the essentials.
Fast X’s break-neck energy is at a level that exceeds other Fast and Furious episodes. Maybe because this time out, realty is just an inconvenience that the director Leterrier, cast and tech crew chose to ignore.
If action/adventure fans are willing to throw logic out the window, they’ll like what they see. They’ll like this road trip.
In theaters on May 19th.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.