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- Directed by Justin Lin
- Written by Daniel Casey and Justin Lin
- Starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and John Cena
- Classification PG; 145 minutes
The threat was always lurking just beneath the surface, but with F9, the Fast & Furious franchise has finally turned into a full-blown cartoon. More specifically, a F&F version of Muppet Babies.
With copious flashbacks to the baby-fat days of the series’ central Toretto clan and enough physics-defying outlandishness to tip the film’s live-action to CGI ratio into the animation sphere, F9 is as ridiculously cartoonish a blockbuster as they come. And God (or should that be Nos?) bless every single person involved, because this is just the kind of you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me action absurdity that we’ve been waiting two cruel summers to arrive.
Also: At this point in the two-decade-long F&F machine, you’re either in or you checked out long ago. Maybe around the time that Vin Diesel’s street-racing hero Dom Toretto developed the power of flight in Fast & Furious 6. Either way, we all know what a F&F movie entails: logic-defying car chases, impossible leaps of narrative coherence, and lots and lots and lots of talk about the importance of “family.” Oh, and many lingering shots of women’s butts. Specifically: women’s butts that are gyrating in the close proximity to souped-up automobiles. The only question then, is whether F9 refines the F&F model, or junks it up.
With the caveat that I watched F9 under exceptionally subpar conditions – at home, with a distracting “Barry Hertz” watermark splashed on the bottom, thanks to Ontario’s theatres still astoundingly in shutdown mode – I’m going to say that the sequel lives up to any and all expectations. Diesel gets to mumble-mutter all manner of unbelievable dialogue. Long-dead characters return to life with little reasonable explanation. Cars flip over, get plucked out of the sky by magnetic jets, and at one honest-to-God moment blast off into outer space. And, naturally, the whole adventure is capped off by (spoiler alert? but c’mon) a big happy family BBQ ostensibly sponsored by Corona (the beer, not the virus).
The plot? Oh yeah, if we must. Opening shortly after the events of 2017′s The Fate of the Furious, F9 finds the world’s least-believable romantic couple, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), living off the grid and raising their young son (or, um, the son that Diesel fathered with the now-dead Rio police officer who was killed by Charlize Theron’s supervillain from the last film ... you know what, never mind). But then their old black-ops friend Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) goes missing, along with a world-destroying device-thingy that he was shepherding, and Dom, Letty and the whole crazy crew are called back into action.
The mechanics of the story don’t make a single lick of sense, which director and co-writer Justin Lin – returning to the franchise after sitting the past two entries out – uses to his distinct advantage. Keenly aware that the hows and whys of the F&F-verse don’t matter so much as the whoas and ay-yi-yis!, Lin stages scene after scene of go-for-broke vehicular mishegas. The first set-piece alone, in which our heroes race through a literal minefield before Dom successfully drives his muscle-car from one clifftop to another thanks only to the thinnest remnants of a rope-bridge, would be the peak-action moment of any other too-big-to-fail blockbuster. Here, it’s just an appetizer.
If you were bored by the sloppy and insulting “thrills” of recent fare like The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and Without Remorse, then F9 is a welcome blast of fizzy action glee. You won’t come out of it a better or smarter person – quite possibly dumber! – but you will leave satisfied that your summer movie season wasn’t a completely life- and joy-less bore.
Not everything works the way that the filmmakers intended, though. We get plenty of sure-okay-fine flashbacks to Dom’s early life, all the better to establish the franchise’s family-is-everything ethos. But we also get annoying late-film flashbacks to those flashbacks, which defy narrative explanation (essentially, Dom’s memory acts as its own multi-perspective time-travel machine).
The gang also travels from one exotic locale to another, which results in many sunny and sexy vistas. Yet the arbitrary hopscotching only underlines why the strongest F&F films picked one city and stuck with it (Fast Five’s Rio de Janeiro, Fast & Furious 6′s London, Tokyo Drift’s, um, Tokyo). Meanwhile, the dialogue is so choked with exposition (“This is Cipher, the woman who killed the mother of your child!”) that I could sense regular F&F screenwriter Chris Morgan (who was too busy with the spinoff Hobbs vs. Shaw to attend to this entry) spiralling into an especially self-destructive case of road rage.
Oh, and I almost forgot that John Cena is here as well, playing Dom’s long-lost brother. Because you will forget that fact, too, given that the film gives about as much attention to Cena’s villain as the actor gave to the autonomy of Taiwan the other month.
But most of F9′s sins can be forgiven, even embraced, as being essential to the sheer sentimental and physical ludicrousness of the F&F brand (including a co-star whose middle name is credited as “Ludacris”).
If you live in any other province than the cursed lands of Ontario and Manitoba, I’d advise you to drop the virtual meetings for an afternoon and embrace a different kind of zoom.
F9 opens June 25 in Canadian theatres, dependent on public-health restrictions; in Ontario, it is only available at select drive-in cinemas
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.