Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 23, 2017 4:10 pm 
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2Fast2Furious: The bloated shape of things to come

The "Fast and Furious" franchise is now more and more all just a blur. I've written about it repeatedly and patiently, mostly with enthusiasm, then in sadness, now finally in exhaustion. The fun is gone. It just isn't there any more. Or more accurately it's too much there. It's overkill. That can happen after eight movies over a sixteen-year period. So many would have wiped out the "Bourne" franchise. The James Bond movies went on so long, and go on still, because they were based on silly, but inventive and witty stories, with an iconic hero who remains the image of suavity and splash. Such a winning combination can't be found in the "Fast & Furious" series. It didn't matter, but this time it's gotten so loud, bloated, and expensive that there's barely any room for character or relationships. The plot elements and series offerings of family, babes, banter, rivalries, car races, and tough guys in multi-continental battles go on, but they've become just tics. The car-battles and explosion-level and use of CGI have swung to such a deliriously high pitch that they seem out of control. Needless to say, this time it's a bigger money-maker than ever.

Fast & Furious (Justin Lin, 2009) was number four, and I took the opportunity to fit it in with Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious of 2001, the first of them all, then number three, 2006's Tokyo Drift (directed by Lin again), explaining how Vin Diesel dropped out for number two. I also reviewed 2011's Fast Five (still Lin), not much imagination being expended on making up titles. So then it was Fast & Furious 6 (one last time Lin) in 2013.

The series suffered a terrible blow that year when Paul Walker, who had played the key role of loose-moral (yet sterling) cop Brian O'Connor in the series from the start, with a terrible irony, died tragically in a car crash shortly after turning forty. This didn't keep Walker from appearing in Furious 7 (Lin now yielding to James Wan, perhaps a bad sign), because much of it had been shot while he was still in life. Walker had the most charisma, his minimal acting underscoring the series' casualness and collective rhythm. The other problem is that without Walker's gentle handsomeness, only Vin Diesel and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson going around in sleeveless shirts all the time and facing off against the lantern-jawed macho man Jason Statham, the movies are just a lot of musclebound hulks and lack a heart and soul. Stratham is dislikable, Diesel is likeable, and Johnson, well, has a glittering smile, but they're too hard to distinguish.

There's always something new and this time, with Straight Outa Compton's F. Gary Gray at the helm, there's a techie girl of color with luxuriant hair and a nice English accent, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). Would you believe, there's Helen Mirren as the mother of Shaw (Statham), who appears with a cuppa (in a very nice cup) and lower-class loud lipstick and a cockney accent that doesn't hold steady. Other familiar faces are back, Michelle Rodriguez, Dom's (Vin's) true love; Ludacris; Tyrese Gibson; the increasingly beat-up looking Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody, the "government agent and covert operative" with a seemingly limitless budget for flashy gadgets and million-dollar show cars. And there is Charlize Theron as Cipher, the chief villain, who stays mostly in a cyber command post like Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) at CIA headquarters the "Bourne" movies, only seeking to do boudless evil. She is suave, very dislikable, but somehow colorless, the "James Bond" moniker notwithstanding.

New locations are a feature of the series that has to be continued, so we begin with Havana, Cuba, but it's just a lush backdrop for a car race, with a little Spanish. The memorable one is the final sequence in the far north, with cars skating over the ice as Cipher tries to blow them up with a nuclear missile and a remote-hacked submarine. In the middle New York City gets trashed with cars hacked en masse and used like lego blocks to crush other cars on the avenues. This is what we have come to: computer-driven cars and the possibility that evil-doers may hack into any of our Internet of Things and use them as weapons against us. With that possibility, the macho drag races to impress soulful babes with boobs where it all began are starting to seem like more just a signature gesture put in to make you think this isn't, after all, just the same as Michael Bay's execrable "Transformers" series. All of a sudden it's beginning to seem like it's swinging that way. Up to now, the last ones were the best, even after he tragic loss of Paul Walker. But it has to be with diminished expectations that we approach the upcoming (and already under way) "Fast & Furious" 9 and 10.

Fate of the Furious, 136 mins., debuted at the Berlinale 4 Apr. 2017; enormously profitable openings in multiple countries following, UK 12 Apr., US 14 Apr.

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