Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Jason Momoa, Jordana Brewster, Charlize Theron
A journeyman hack routinely responsible for terrible films, Louis Leterrier’s arrival at the helm of the latest in the invincible Fast & Furious franchise might’ve set off all sorts of alarm bells if the series hadn’t been doing it’s best to tank itself since peaking with Furious 7. While still raking in significant box office, the films since have fallen incredibly flat, with recurring director Justin Lin’s bloated F9 coming close to a series nadir. Not even sending Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) into space in a car could save it. Somehow Fast X is even sillier than that, though it never leaves orbit. Not physically anyway. It manages to be quite possibly the noisiest and dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a cinema, and all the better for it.
Those who’ve just joined us or who have cloudy memories might do well to revisit the fondly-remembered Fast Five, as in many ways Fast X behaves like it’s direct sequel, in spite of a decade of beefy antics occurring in the interval. If you’ve not got the time, fear not; the movie opens with augmented footage of the fateful Rio bank heist that capped the movie, revealing to the world Dom (Vin Diesel) and his family’s latest – and campiest – nemesis. Enter Jason Momoa’s Dante, son of the cartel boss vanquished by our heroes, now belatedly out to ruin everyone’s mid-afternoon barbecue. The beginning of a supposedly franchise-capping two (maybe even three) parter, Fast X is all vengeance and daddy issues. So, business as usual, then.
Technically speaking, a lot of Fast X is conspicuously bad. In spite of it’s globe-trotting storyline, it’s doubtful many of the actors present (and there are soooo many of them) ever left a green screened studio. Diesel, particularly, looks superimposed into every scene he appears in. Maybe that’s just his vibe. The world’s least probable man. Still, the patchiness of Fast X‘s increasingly CG-dependent universe risks dating this entry the fastest, as it already looks like it’s taken a battering. When Brie Larson’s Tess and Alan Ritchson’s Agent Aimes meet for the first time, it looks as though nobody thought to design a location for them. Surrounded by inexplicably massive televisions floating in the sky, the scene looks like it’s taking place inside a 24 DVD menu screen. The script’s grasp far exceeds the production’s reach, and many an action scene is marred by this sense of uncanny-valley. Surprisingly, however, this only adds to the movie’s goofy charm.
Because hot-damn, they’ve upped the stupid. A recent Twitter prompt posed the question when did this universe cut loose of reality, which sort of misses the point of it all. Granted, we’ve come a long way from stealing DVD players at the end of film one, but the way Fast X embraces the series’ snowballing nonsense works far better than F9‘s more labored pandering. An early highlight sees a giant kiloton bomb bouncing around the streets of Rome as the gang reenact a game of marble run with laughably high levels of collateral damage. Flanked by Momoa’s series-best turn as flamboyant villain Dante, and it ranks among F&F‘s most giddily enjoyable, over-the-top sequences.
Things stay admirably breakneck. Granted there are the ubiquitous pauses for Dom to rattle off some drag-racer philosophy, or the odd moment where he gets to flex between his two makeable faces (squinty and not squinty), but by and large Fast X prefers to slingshot itself from one far-fetched action set piece to the next.
With a cast this bloated that’s easily achievable. Dante’s actions in Rome successfully breaks up The Family, who are subsequently splintered into groups across the globe. Fans of Roman, Tej and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) might feel a little shortchanged this outing, as they spend much of their portion bumbling around London bickering with one another, though they do get to join Han (Sung Kang) for an amusing drop-off at Shaw’s (Jason Statham) pad. Elsewhere, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Cypher (Charlize Theron) make for an engaging pairing, in a strand that reveals that the miracle-working medibay robots from Star Trek exist in the F&F universe. Family friendly comic relief comes courtesy of Dom’s recently converted bro Jakob (John Cena) who is tasked with protecting our hero’s son B (Leo A. Perry). Cena gamely embraces a less serious register, and the pairing evokes the broad amiability of many an early ’90s actioner.
But I’m dancing around the out-and-out highlight, which is Momoa’s movie-stealing work as Dante. Think a psychotically queer version of DC’s Joker, quaffed, manicured and decked out in any number of shiny billowy shirts. It’s a type, for sure; the wise-cracking, giddy Bad Guy who just loves being bad, and it runs scarily close to some fourth-wall busting “so that happened” shenanigans, but go with him and Fast X becomes a gas-guzzlingly enjoyable beast.
A protracted third act is a franchise staple at this point, and Leterrier dutifully serves one up. The movie’s busted reality a dozen times over by this stage in the thankfully-zippy running time, but the last stretch repeatedly, joyfully beggars belief. This being just the beginning of the end of the road, we’re left on some appreciable cliffhangers (with a couple of notable guest stars), but the getting to it involves a lot of dafty and fiery delirium.
F&F has never been cool. When it was the underdog franchise it was a series improbably perpetuating itself without a classic. When it took a shot of it’s own nitro and turned into a globe-conquering behemoth it still felt like a weird outsider in the strata of popular cinema. But it’s sort of adorable how this diversely cast ensemble keeps coming and coming. The internal bruhaha about family long since swan-dived into self-parody, but even this has become an intrinsic weave in it’s nostalgia. The rev in it’s engine. And Diesel’s laughably morose Dom remains a strange sort of thankless lynchpin. He plays it so seriously that everything clattering around him kind of works. It’s a blessing for us that the remainder of the cast make it such fun.