Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: F Gary Gray
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood, Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren
We live in unpredictable times. A reality TV show host is running the free world. Leicester City are Premier League champions. Helen Mirren is in a Fast & Furious movie. In the eighth installment of a franchise now competing with '80s slasher series in terms of sequel numbers, Mirren plays the cockerney accented Mum of Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw, previously a series villain but now one of the good guys, as that's how this franchise works - today's bad guy is tomorrow's hero.
The new villain here, and presumably the hero of a future sequel, is Charlize Theron's Cipher, the world's sexiest hacker. She uses her keyboard skills to enlist the aid of Vin Diesel's XXX - sorry, wrong series - Dominic Toretto to stockpile some of the world's deadliest weapons of mass destruction. Has Toretto really gone rogue or is he playing some sort of long game? It's up to his extended 'family', led by Dwayne Johnson's special agent Hobbs, to find out.
For a franchise that began with a relatively reality grounded remake of a 1955 Roger Corman production (albeit one that owed much to Point Break), the Furious series has evolved into an unwieldy behemoth. In an attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible, it's become the western equivalent of a Bollywood epic, with car pile-ups in place of musical numbers. Such a quest for diversity leads to cinematic schizophrenia; this is a series that explicitly courts a conservative Christian audience (a crucifix plays a key role in this installment's plot, and there's the obligatory ending in which our heroes gather around a table to say grace) while filling the screen with more upskirt shots than you'll find on the celebrity gossip section of the Daily Mail website.
F&F's obsession with the family unit has reached Randian extremes of narcissism here. The 'heroes' actions once again result in scores of civilian casualties, so I guess the family that slays together stays together. Seeing this bunch of sociopaths cold-bloodedly gun down, run over and throw into submarine propeller blades a series of villains and passersby alike makes the whole saying grace part all the more difficult to swallow.
I'm not sure how the courted Christian audience will react to the movie's opening set-piece, set in an incredibly patronising version of Havana, and which plays like a tourist board commercial for the communist island. Objectively it's the highlight of the film, as it takes the series back to its roots with a one on one race through city streets. It's ridiculous, but somewhat fun to watch, whereas the rest of the action sequences are merely ridiculous and tedious. I can't think of a less visually interesting location for a car chase than the open white expanse of the Russian tundra, but that's exactly where Fast & Furious 8's overlong and underwhelming climax takes place.
The movie is at its best in its opening act, when its characters are allowed verbally spar with one another. Statham and Johnson have a lot of fun trading jibes, but sadly and bizarrely we never get to see them trade physical blows; it's like casting Astaire and Rogers and neglecting to have them dance.
There are sequences here that must have sounded great on paper, but thanks to sub-par FX and uninspired direction from F Gary Gray, are rendered laughable at best, insufferable at worst. One set-piece cleverly explores the idea of self-driving cars running amok in New York, but it's so shoddy that many of its CG elements seem unfinished, and so over the top that it ventures into Roland Emmerich territory.
This is all highly frustrating. The F&F series has everything it needs to succeed - a cast that mixes charismatic movie stars with talented actors and physically adept athletes, and a concept and budget that allows for the staging of outlandish set-pieces - but it just doesn't seem all that interested in making anything of it. This should be like a fantasy movie co-directed by George Miller and Jackie Chan, but instead it's a cynical mish-mash of too many characters, too much CG and too few fucks given. Time for this franchise to pull into a lay-by; it's been asleep at the wheel for far too long.
Fast & Furious 8 is in UK/ROI cinemas April 12th.