‘F9’ Goes Full Looney Tunes

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F9: Explosion (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron, Vinnie Bennett, Finn Cole, J.D. Pardo, Michael Rooker, Lucas Black, Shad Moss, Jason Tobin, Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren

Director: Justin Lin

Running Time: 145 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Usual Cascade of Absurd Action

Release Date: June 25, 2021 (Theaters)

F9 is easily the silliest of the Fast & Furious series, which is saying something for a franchise that already went up to 11 and beyond on the Over-the-Top Scale at least four movies ago. It’s not the level of ambition that’s different so much as the tenor. The main attraction of Fast Five through Furious 7 was how technically brilliant the stunts were; this time it’s all about how they could fit right in with something out of Bugs Bunny and company. Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris) definitely have a Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner vibe. (Which one is which depends on any given moment.) Another apt comparison: Muppet Labs’ Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. (Once again, the roles can flip-flop depending on the situation.)

So here’s the deal this time around: Dom has a brother that we’ve never seen before! Also, the gang goes to space! How did the former remain a secret for so long? Ehh, don’t worry about it, they’ll figure out a way. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not. Did you hear the part I just mentioned about space? This series, and this entry in particular, doesn’t really concern itself with what’s probable. Well, actually I kind of take that back, as it actually does concern itself with probability, but only in terms of playing lip service to the concept. To wit: there’s a running bit in which Roman, Tej, and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) ponder if they’re something akin to invincible superheroes. The movie doesn’t actually say that they are, but it doesn’t not say that either.

What’s also making me feel good with F9 is the Tokyo Drift reunion. What had previously seemed like the ugly stepchild in the franchise and what I had originally pegged as a potential so-bad-it’s-good contender has instead evolved into something resembling a cult classic full of hidden treasures. Sung Kang has already returned as Han multiple times, and the trailer has already spoiled that he’s back from the dead for this go-round. But on top of that, we’ve also got Lucas Black, Jason Tobin, and Shad “Bow Wow” Moss back in action. They’re not drifting their rides this time around, but they are more explosive than ever. Remember that Muppet Labs comparison. This is a trio of Bunsen Honeydews right here. Also of note: with appearances by Frog and Robopine, I believe this is the first Fast & Furious movie to feature two (2) Masked Singer alums.

I haven’t talked too much about John Cena showing up and wreaking havoc as Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob, or Jordana Brewster as their sister Mia getting back in the swing of things after skipping the last chapter, even though that is of course the main storyline. And well, that’s because, we all know how this story goes: something threatens the stability of the family, and then crazy stunts are pulled off all over the globe in the name of strengthening the family’s core and opening up that family to new members. I don’t worry too much about the villainy, because nobody stays a villain for very long in this universe. As long as there are enough silly shenanigans going on in the margins – and in the most important moments – then we’re good to go.

F9 is Recommended If You Like: Fast Five, Tokyo Drift, Violent kid-friendly cartoons

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Electromagnets

Movie Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ is Surprisingly Goofy, Unsurprisingly Family-Oriented, and Annoyingly Convoluted

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Universal Pictures

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Eddie Marsan, Eiza González, Helen Mirren

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Big Vehicles and Big Egos Slamming Into Each Other

Release Date: August 2, 2019

Spin-offs should offer something that the original couldn’t. Hobbs & Shaw immediately feels off in that regard, considering that Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have already been a couple of the biggest characters in the last few Fast & Furious movies. Although, they aren’t quite members of the core family, so that leaves them enough wiggle room to break out on their own. But it can’t be too different! This franchise has a sterling stunt reputation it needs to maintain, and while director David Leitch and company do not try to be as relentlessly mind-blowing as Fast Five or Furious 7, there is at least one memorable moment when a motorcycle slinks between some truck tires.

The separation, then, mostly comes in Hobbs & Shaw being at its core an odd couple buddy comedy, and in this case, that means a few celebrity cameos who inject their own particular brands of impishness. These moments feel out of place in this world, but they might also be the best parts? Their charms cannot be denied. Honestly, though, I think we would have been better off spending more time with Hobbs’ daughter (Eliana Sua), as her scenes are both delightful AND internally consistent.

As wonderfully corny as Hobbs & Shaw is willing to be, it can’t change the fact that most of the plot is convoluted high-tech, globetrotting nonsense. Idris Elba is the cybernetically enhanced big bad, and we get a few genuinely disturbing shots of how he is becoming a superhuman or something beyond human. There is a hint of a larger conspiracy at play here, but only a hint. Meanwhile Vanessa Kirby plays Deckard’s sister Hattie, an MI6 agent who has been infected with a virus that’s going to kill her and apparently everyone around her also. The explanation for how the virus is supposed to spread is either glossed over or not emphasized enough, which is a problem because the race to cure Hattie is what drives most of the action.

Thankfully, the reward for dithering through all that is a surefire demonstration that we must, in true F&F fashion, celebrate the importance of family. It’s not as flat-out heartwarming as the series proper, but Hobbs takes us all along to Samoa to meet his mom and brothers, and Helen Mirren totally rocks her prison jumpsuit in her return as Mama Shaw. I could do without all the derivative action flick gobbledygook, but I’m grateful for the good vibes.

Hobbs & Shaw is Recommended If You Like: James Bond, but with a goofy postmodern (though not quite parody) sensibility

Grade: 3 out of 5 Friendy Insults