Fast 8 hacks its soul away
More Top Gear than Shakespeare, the eighth Fast film is seriously bloated writes Darren Bevan
There are certain things you expect from The Fast and the Furious film franchise: Insane racing, scantily-clad dancers, and endless speeches about family made throughout.
Pretty much all of those are present and correct in the eighth instalment of a franchise which shows no sense of dying. What's missing is a sense of soul and heart that's bound together the other films to varying degrees of success.
In The Fate of the Furious, Vin Diesel's folk hero Dom Toretto is forced to betray his crew and his family when braided cyber-terrorist Cypher (an icy Charlize Theron) exerts some mysterious leverage over him.
Forced to accept their betrayal, Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs is compelled to assemble the good guys (including an expanded role for Game Of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel) and some bad guys (hello, Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw, imprisoned in Furious 7) to save the day.
Mixing in global terrorism, cyber-hacking and occasional set pieces with relative ease appears to be the MO, but despite Straight Outta Compton helmer F Gary Gray's eye behind the lens, the whole thing feels flat and formulaic.
Granted, with its ACME-style shenanigans and fights and car-flips where nobody ever emerges with the slightest hint of a cut or graze, the Fast franchise has never aimed for the levels of Shakespearean dialogue or any attempts at a cerebral outing. The usual reason to enjoy these is in the over-the-top stunt work, high-octane sequences, and great amounts of heart.
As one character says in The Fate of the Furious: "It's not what's under the hood, it's about who's behind the wheel."
And that motif certainly feels like it infects this bloated thriller with the growing feeling that those in charge didn't really invest as much into the script as they should have.
The mid-section of this dumb beast is slowed by endless techno-banter masquerading as exposition, and it almost cripples what you'd want from a film like this. After a thrilling street race in Havana, the film hits a speed bump after the introduction of self-assured Theron's Cipher.
Diesel is his usual monosyllabic self as Toretto, but this time he fails to reach a basic level of emotion. His attempts at showing struggle and conflict come across as more a petulant teen outburst, delivered with the emotional range of a potato.
Some of the slack is picked up by the reliably charismatic Dwayne Johnson, the man mountain who was brought on as a cop a few entrants back to track down Toretto. There's even a scene that will appeal to the home crowd as Johnson leads a female kids football team into a rousing haka pre-game. It does feel slightly odd and unexpected as a throwaway moment, but it's good to see perhaps that his recent Moana outing's stirred-up some sense of culture.
But the script confines most of Toretto's team to the sidelines, grounding their arcs in neutral rather than full-speed ahead - and even the banter between Ludacris' Tej and Tyrese Gibson's Roman is hit by a lack of under-writing.
Thankfully, the British invasion brings the best signs of life in this flagging actioner - a wonderful cameo from Helen Mirren as an East-End, mucky-mouthed matriarch greatly enlivens proceedings, and a final plane-confined homage to the 1992 action flick Hard Boiled from Yun-Fat Chow involving Statham is nothing short of deranged brilliance and great fun.
However, all in all The Fate of the Furious is stuffed to the gills. It would've greatly benefited from an expeditious trim to make it leaner and more taut in its ultimate execution.
The fact the cast of main actors, and their supporting charges, is growing to ever-increasing numbers doesn't help things.
The one-more-cameo mentality feels like a troupe of am -dram players who are too afraid to sort the wheat from the chaff.
A cast cull would greatly enhance parts of this franchise and bring some much needed emotional range too.
Perhaps it's because Fast 7's huge global box office take after Paul Walker's death necessitated yet one more ride, even though the narrative tank was empty, The Fate of the Furious actually feels surplus to requirements.
The Fate of the Furious is a lacklustre spectacle that feels constrained and that betrays some of the franchise's prior heart and soul in among the carnage. It's perhaps the ultimate Easter treat - looks good, shiny and promises much, but inside it's hollow and you'll feel as guilty as hell afterwards.
Watch it do huge numbers at the box office. This is a demented, extreme version of Top Gear for the masses, who'll lap up every second of its excess and ensure that come Diesel's retirement age, he'll be laughing all the way to the bank.
The Fate of the Furious
Cast: Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Dwayne Johnson, Helen Mirren
Director: F Gary Gray
Running time: 135 minutes
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