Happy birthday, Sweet 16.
Well, almost. It’s hard to believe that the first in “The Fast and the Furious” franchise opened in June 2001. And it’s still going strong, even after the death of one of its beloved lead stars.
Now comes “The Fate of the Furious.” Yes, the absence of the late Paul Walker can be felt right from the get-go, but darned if this screenplay doesn’t throw in everything possible to get your mind off it.
Now Vin Diesel as Dom Toretto is on a honeymoon in Cuba with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in Cuba. Immediately he runs afoul of a bully, and of course Dom not only earns the bully’s respect but also straightens things out for the fellow who’s being bullied.
Dom and Letty aren’t happy ever after for very long. The powerful criminal Cipher (Charlize Theron) appears, and tells Dom that he’s going to go to work for her and betray the thing he holds most dear: His family.
And so it is that, during a mission with government agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Dom “goes rogue” and betrays his team. He meets up again with Deckard (Jason Statham) in prison, and soon the two must work together.
Helen Mirren – yes, that Helen Mirren, who loves cars and this franchise and asked for a part in it – plays his mother. Kurt Russell is the leader of the troop that includes most of the “Furious” team.
And yes, there’s something in here about saving the world.
Honestly, if you try to analyze this, you’ll come out scratching your head. Just know that you are going to see hot bodies and lots and lots of hot cars – in fact, you are going to see sports cars raining on Manhattan (take that, “Magnolia,” and your rain of amphibians). People throw themselves out of speeding vehicles and survive – not just survive, but look terrific afterward. The group ends up in Siberia at one point. This is, in essence, a cartoon for older kids and grownups.
Nothing that happens here will surprise anybody who’s seen one of these movies before. You have a cast that’s likeable, characters without much depth but whom you’ll want to embrace anyhow, and a boatload of vehicles. Also, it has its share of laughs: One of the funniest bits involves Statham safely juggling a baby while encountering villains.
Director F. Gary Gray certainly keeps things moving: He helmed “The Italian Job” remake and also “Straight Outta Compton.” And I’m sure this franchise will keep on moving, too, into the ninth segment next year.