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By Tim Estiloz
“The Fate of the Furious”, the eighth film in the high-octane, testosterone powered action franchise hasn’t yet entirely “jumped the shark” for its fan faithful with its increasingly over the top car chase and crash sequences which are the series’ trademark. Audiences will still eat up the ridiculously implausible action sequences and thin plot line with gleeful enthusiasm.
However, this latest installment surely pushes the envelope awfully close to silliness that almost completely defies the laws of logic and reality; making it more and more difficult for audiences to take the franchise seriously with each new film. Hard to believe this franchise began in 2001 as a relatively simple tale of a good undercover cop (Paul Walker) vs an ambiguously ethical bad guy (Vin Diesel) and his car crew set against a backdrop of urban street racing and criminal hijinks.
Fast forward 16 years and the Fast and Furious series, sans actor Paul Walker who died midway through the last installment’s filming, and you have what amounts to a weird hybrid of spy melodrama and intrigue laced with bits of comedy and outrageously unbelievable stunt sequences. It’s empty, albeit occasionally entertaining, eye candy where amazingly beautiful cars smash up real good amid snappy non sequiturs by its diverse cast of characters.
“F8” begins with a relatively fun and beautifully shot opening race sequence set in Havana, Cuba where Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto finds himself blackmailed into betraying his family-centric outlaw crew of friends by a mysterious international villain known as Cipher (Charlize Theron). Cipher has something in her possession that makes the intensely family oriented Toretto turn against his beloved own crew and government agent friend Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) during a secret mission to steal a powerful Electro Magnetic Pulse device. Instead, Toretto steals the EMP for Cipher and causes Hobbs to end up in prison.
Enter Kurt Russell as a slick CIA fixer who brings Toretto’s pedal to the metal band together and springs not only Hobbs out of prison; but also Jason Statham as a bad guy who just happened to kill one of their crew in the last film, to assist in bringing both Toretto and Cipher down. The rest of “F8” is series of outrageous stunt sequences as Toretto’s crew and Hobbs work to track down their friend and capture Cipher in the process.
Despite the ludicrously implausible car chases and crashes involving dozens, if not hundreds, of cars in downtown Manhattan at one point; “F8” is certainly never boring. Though, one can’t help but wonder, if only briefly, about the collateral damage body count involving bad guys, other drivers or innocent pedestrian bystanders as the cars and twisted metal go flying everywhere throughout the film. “F8” is an on-screen car racing video game where cars smash into each other with cataclysmic abandon and no one seems to die amid the carnage.
However, “F8” isn’t about reality. That’s especially apparent in the climax when the crew is speeding across a Siberian ice cap, with Tyrese Gibson in a neon orange Lamborghini while being chased by a Russian nuclear submarine. The stunts in this film are so overblown, they’re in danger of approaching the insanity and silliness of the worst of the 1980’s James Bond films starring Roger Moore
Still, amid all the stunt choreography, there are some fun moments by the film’s cast of characters. Dwayne Johnson practically steals the show with his earnest and often hilarious delivery of corny lines that would seem ridiculous on paper. A sequence involving Hobb’s daughter’s girls soccer team intimidating their teenage opponents is pure comedic gold.
Helen Mirren in an uncredited cameo is a sheer delight. For the true devotees of the franchise, there’s plenty of fan service cameos of the various characters that have appeared in previous installments to evoke the requisite cheers of joy, recognition and also a moment of unexpected tragedy and sadness.
Sadly, Charlize Theron is wasted in this film. Her villain, Cipher lacks any real depth, charisma or physicality in a film that oozes action in each frame.
Still, it’s hard to totally dislike a film where Diesel’s Dom Toretto clings to his mantra of family loyalty as an unbreakable badge of honor. However, Toretto references the importance of such unity in “F8” so many times; when this film comes out on BluRay, it will make a great drinking game for some to down a shot each time he mentions the word “family”.