‘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

‘Bloodshot’ Offers a Sort-of Fascinating Spin on a Few Common Sci-Fi Tropes

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures

Starring: Vin Diesel, Guy Pearce, Eiza González, Lamorne Morris, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley

Director: David S.F. Wilson

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Bullets and Explosions Here and There

Release Date: March 13, 2020

Bloodshot strikes me as more of a cinematic experiment moreso than a narrative presentation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The medium of film is robust enough that it can accomodate things that aren’t exactly telling a story or not doing so straightforwardly. Bloodshot actually does have some sort of plot, but that’s not the most interesting part about it. Based on a comic book series, it stars Vin Diesel as a Marine named Ray Garrison who gets killed but then is very quickly brought back to life stronger and more deadly. You know, that old saw that we love from the likes of The Six Million Dollar Man and RoboCop. He is bent on revenge against the man who “killed” both him and his wife, although the scientist who brought him back, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), has a few missions he would like him to go on, but perhaps their motivations align with each other … or do they?

Ray’s enhancement is fueled by microscopic technology referred to as “nanites,” a word that I will never not find hilarious as I primarily associate it with the creatures of that name from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Basically, the idea is that these little creatures, or tiny robots, or whatever they are, work at an atomic level to repair any injury that Ray sustains thoroughly and immediately. In visual practice, this means that when he gets hit with bullets or other weaponry, fields of blood-red strands shoot off from his body, as his molecules re-assemble in mid-air and then return back into him.

Working alongside that idea of reassembling on the fly, the other major idea fueling Bloodshot is the series of false memories that uploaded into Ray’s head. His revenge mission, it turns out, may just be what he’s been programmed to do. In practice, this generally means that it never feels fully clear exactly what the practical stakes are. But on the plus(-ish) side, it also means we get some visual flourishes that I’ve never quite seen in any other movie, like one moment that virtually recreates the setting that Ray has been trained to remember. It looks like a behind-the-scenes video that shows the rendering of visual effects. I’m not sure that sort of thing belongs in a finished cinematic product, but I’m fascinated by its presence there nonetheless.

That mix of fascination and uncertainty is my general overall reaction to Bloodshot. Pretty much everything about it feels like it was made up on the fly, or meant to be about making it up on the fly. How else to explain the presence of New Girl‘s Lamorne Morris as an English hacker and the fact that he’s the best part of the movie? The second part is easy enough to explain: he’s Lamorne Morris, and he’s awesome. But presumably, he would’ve been just as awesome with his normal speaking voice. Is his character unmistakably English in the comic? Do we Americans just love accents that much? Look, you get your pleasures where you can with a movie that doesn’t seem to have thought through every little detail. Or you turn your brain off and admire the pretty pictures. Or you tap into some part of your brain that you didn’t realize you’d need to access for a movie as surprisingly un-pin-down-able as this one.

Bloodshot is Recommended If You Like: Vin Diesel gradually figuring it out, Lamorne Morris as the comic relief, DVD bonus features about special effects

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Nanites

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2’ Fulfills Its Blockbuster Duty

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Space Opera Whiz Bang and Discussions About the Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017

As fun as this era of Marvel-ous moviemaking can be, a corporate agenda gets in the way of originality. But it is not necessarily the blueprint of interconnected universes that mandates that every superhero movie must end with a fight for the survival of the planet. That is simply this genre’s instinct. If you want to avoid it, you have to fight it. And expanding the setting to multiple galaxies is not the way to do so. That just raises the stakes. Instead of just Earth, it is the fate of the entire universe that hangs in the balance. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 cannot help but be a part of this exhausting pattern, but it does what it can by rendering this gigantic fight as personal as possible.

When Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost papa Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, Quill suspects that the reunion is a little too perfect. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) convinces him to give his dad a chance, assuring him that if treachery is afoot, killing him is always an option. So they, alongside Drax (Dave Bautista) and Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) head off to Ego’s home planet. It looks like an idyllic utopia, but eventually it is revealed that Ego is the planet, and his intentions with his son may not be so aboveboard. The threat of universal apocalypse thereby feels intimate because it depends upon how Quill will or will not be manipulated.

Meanwhile, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are holding down the fort elsewhere and forming unlikely, but satisfying, alliances with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They must deal with an onslaught from a new race of aliens that I do not feel like getting into. They are probably here because they will factor significantly into future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, but for now, they are a distraction from the main conflict. I am not opposed in principle to splitting up the main crew. Rocket and Groot, after all, have a delightful C-3PO/R2-D2-style repartee wherever they go. They can do their own thing, it just does not need to be so extensive when the main thrust is already so all-encompassing.

While vol. 2 does fall prey to sequel bloat, the Guardians crew is reliable enough for their adventures to have a pretty high floor. The banter is top-notch, fueled as it is by intergalactic culture clash. Gamora attempts to comfort Quill by referencing his attachment to a certain beloved-by-Germans celebrity, but she totally botches the details. Quill later fires back with a Cheers analogy of their relationship that is adorably confused. Drax demonstrates how his race is quite open about discussing sexual matters with a colorful description of his parents’ experiences. This is all helped along by Mantis’ empathic abilities, in which she can feel others’ emotions and thus open up the dams holding back honesty. The pinnacle of all this sharing is Baby Groot’s opinion on hats (which does not even need Mantis’ prompting).

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is Recommended If You Like: “I am Groot.” “I am Groot?” “I AMMM GROOOOOOOT!”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sweet Sounds of the Seventies

This Is a Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

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The last three entries in the Fast & Furious series brought me fully on board the “quarter mile at a time” lifestyle, thanks to their brazenly unrealistic stunts leaving me totally breathless. (The cornball repartee and preternaturally earnest family ethos were nice bonuses.) The Fate of the Furious certainly does not hold back on the go-for-broke extremes, but nothing really reaches any gobsmacking heights. There are too many explosions – fire gets in the way of the awe of flying through the air. At least Ludacris and Tyrese are still on point with whatever they’re nattering on about. They’re practically speaking a new dialect at this point.

I give The Fate of the Furious 6.5 Approvals From the Baby out of 10 Redirected Explosions.