Movie Review: “F9: The Fast Saga”

The “Fast & Furious” movies long ago transitioned from being a series about relatively criminals with a penchant for cars running into trouble with police. They have, through the years, gotten bigger and dumber. The key thing though is that their stupidity is not a dealbreaker. Sure, you can’t possibly apply human logic or our understanding of the laws of physics to the movies, but so what? Who doesn’t want to watch The Rock shove a torpedo out of the way with his hand? Who doesn’t want to stare as someone jumps a supercar from one skyscraper to another? Who doesn’t want to see cars pulling a massive safe around city streets, knocking into stuff?

Yes, some of the best entries in the series are the ones that make the least sense. The key, apparently, is seeing just how big and loud and dumb they can be. To that end, franchise vet Justin Lin is back helming “F9: The Fast Saga,” which, as the name sort of indicates, is the ninth entry of the main line of films in the franchise. It is not the best that star/producer Vin Diesel and company have released, but it certainly tries.

To put what we’re talking about into perspective here, repeatedly used in “F9” is a bit of logic that states that it doesn’t matter how fast you are traveling external to any sort of vehicle (that is: flying through the air of falling to the ground with nothing around you as protection), you will be safe as long as you land on the hood of a speeding car. If you actually hit the ground, you’re done, but if you land on a car, you walk away with nary a scratch.

If you’re looking for the narrative equivalent of that leap of faith, it’s that a franchise that decided long ago that it was all about family, for this movie, has given our lead character, Dom Toretto (Diesel), a brother… a brother who has never ever been mentioned before. Why? Well, it is difficult to speculate, but being that this brother, Jakob, is played by former wrestler John Cena, it certainly feels to the audience like the movie is trying to compensate for the lack of Dwayne Johnson, who appeared in the fifth through eighth films and led the offshoot “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”

To make this new brother work, Lin provides a whole lot of Toretto backstory in “F9.” We come to understand the bad blood between the two as the movie constantly flashes back to 1989 and we see a young Dom (Vinnie Bennett) and young Jakob (Finn Cole) fall apart. To say that the whole thing works is the same as accepting that Roman (Tyrese Gibson) can gun down 14 guys who surrounding him without taking a bullet from them in return.

In one of the best repeated discussions in this film, even Roman doesn’t buy that he’s unharmed from the encounter. He has come around to the opinion that he (and the rest of the crew) have superpowers. For whatever it’s worth, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) disagree on the superpowers but still buy that Dom has a brother and this brother is working with a guy named Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) to do some very bad things.

Yes, Tej and Roman and Ramsey are all back for this outing. Some of the other returnees (though by no means all) are Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Cipher (Charlize Theron), Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Queenie (Helen Mirren), Sean (Lucas Black), and Han (Sung Kang). Franchise fans will be exceptionally pleased by this last name, and the believability of his return is… well, if you can accept that Dom has a brother and that Brian is both alive and unwilling to show for the event even as his wife, Mia, does, and that Pontiac Fiero can fly, sure, it works.

At some point (probably at least three movies ago) it became silly to try and take down a “Fast & Furious) entry by pointing out plot holes or the rules of Newtonian physics or anything else.

When “F9” succeeds, it does so because you don’t for a minute believe that a car or a human or a rocket or an armored vehicle or a magnet can do what you’re seeing it do, but you don’t care, it’s just so much fun to watch. This is a movie that sort of, kind of, dares to get serious in a few minutes and generates some of the best laughs of the entire thing when it does. Heck, the stunts generate laughs too, because they’re great and impossible and absurd.

Where “F9” fails to live up to some of its predecessors is not with its scope nor its audacity, but in its quiet moments, the moments between the stunts. As the “plot” unfurls, it is both more silly and less amusing than what has come before. The movie winds up progressing characters in a way that the whole affair feels engineered to shift pieces into place for the next entry rather than being a full thing in and of itself. Make no mistake, there’s still fun to be had, this is a movie franchise still fearless in its glorification of stupidity, but this particular entry is just not quite up to the level of some of the others. At least, it’s not when they exit their vehicles.

photo credit: Universal Pictures

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