Thursday, August 1, 2019


That Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is occasionally good enough as a passably preposterous summer blockbuster is a fluke of timing. Firstly, it’s arriving near the tail end of one of the more dispiriting summers for such franchise fare in recent memory. Secondly, and more importantly, it's on the bleeding edge of ridiculous in a franchise that has been trending ever further in that direction, arriving as the ninth in the Fast & Furious series. Who’d have thought that what started as a enjoyable, small-scale, heists-and-drag-racing action film would now, nearly twenty years later, be a full-scale comic-booky superspy blowout? This is also a spin-off feature starring two side characters who weren’t even introduced until the fifth and sixth entry, respectively, and both times as a Big Name antagonist to the main crew. Here bulky Hobbs (The Rock) and suave Shaw (Jason Statham) are conscripted as unlikely heroes in a race to save the world—although this time they’re not tied to the vehicular skill-set of Vin Diesel and company. Even though those movies eventually launched so far over the top they became about jumping a sports car between skyscrapers or outrunning a nuclear submarine by driving an SUV across a frozen lake, this one has a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier (Idris Elba) taking orders from a mysterious electronic voice (the better to cast a Big Name for the sequel without figuring it out now) commanding him procure a genetically modified virus that’ll wipe out most of the population. (“Genocide schmenocide,” sneers the villain who identifies himself as “the Bad Guy” in his first line.) They’ll need the help of Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirby) who’s an MI-6 agent framed for stealing the virus. The stage is set for a movie that's often going exactly where you'd guess.

The central characters make a fun trio — all bravado and colliding charismatic star personas bouncing off crass sorta punchlines and muscling through action — as the long-time series scripter Chris Morgan concocts a string of set-pieces exploding with cartoony verve between lukewarm comedy and cornball sentiment. It has cars flipping through CG explosions, a self-driving motorcycle catching up to its owner, an ATV smashing blindly and safely through glass warehouse walls, rounds of shoot-‘em-up cacophony, bruising hand-to-hand combat, and elaborate man-versus-machine fights. The action is mostly framed well by the director, John Wick and Atomic Blonde alum David Leitch, who nonetheless lets the size of the chaos get away from him. Not a bit of it has an ounce of weight. The stunts don’t merely strain credulity, they never have it in the first place. The threats never seem real, and the violence is all carefully bloodless and without a drop of suspense. The sunny sets, smirking tone, and sleek computerized varnish play the whole adventure off as a lark, tossing off torture and calamity as just another jocular turn of the screws, and the fate of the world as just an excuse to reunite estranged family members. That’s nice, I suppose, so far as it goes. The movie is a bouncy, high-speed frivolity, with booming sound design, a smoothly hectic pace, a couple fun cameos, and an undemanding passive entertainment value. It’s fine when it’s stupidly preposterous, but less so when it’s also preposterously stupid. The whole endeavor is sporadically entertaining, but more often flimsy and silly — even in comparison to the worst excesses of its franchise inspiration. At least it hits its stock marks and rote routes more often than not. Maybe next time they’ll be as inspired by the best of the predecessors instead. Bring on 2 Hobbs 2 Shaw.

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