Saturday, May 20, 2023

Running on Empty: FAST X

I watched Fast X with a sinking feeling. Oh, no, I thought. This is what people who dislike the Fast & Furious movies sight unseen assume they’re all like. Here’s a nonsensically plotted movie with Vin Diesel’s scowling visage and big ensemble of honorary family, cartoon-logic special effects action, grunted monosyllabic emotionalism, short shorts, street races, super-spy silliness, convoluted call-backs, cringing humor, clanging cameos, and sentimental emotionality in a gear-head soap opera of the dumbest order in grindingly repetitive sequences of weightless noise and chaos punctuated by preposterous feats of vehicular mayhem. Sure, they all have bits of that, and that's often fun, but this one gets the mix all wrong. I imagined dials and knobs and levers and switches pushed around in a haphazard manner resulting in a cacophony of empty confusion. It has everything us fans love about the series, but it’s jumbled up in the wrong proportions with ineffectual execution.

New-to-the-series director Louis Leterrier just doesn’t have the subtle touch of Justin Lin, who directed five of the previous 10 entries. Lin often made the preposterous sing with clean emotional hooks and an eye for expressive action beats that leapt lightly over the possible into the excitingly excessive. Leterrirer falls shorts exactly how Furious Seven’s James Wan and Fate of the Furious’s F. Gary Gray did, but more so. They were over-cranking everything but the characters’ basic believability and the plot’s streamlined cohesion. He adds the latter, too. Maybe Lin’s the only one who can get the balance right, though Vin’s the one who really has the reins at the this point. Regardless, X makes me appreciate how much closer Wan and Gray got than Leterrier does.

It doesn’t help comparisons that the first action scene—indeed, the first scene entirely—is made up of clips reused from Lin’s Fast Five with X’s flamboyant villain (Jason Momoa) awkwardly CG retconned in. The whole project then peaks early with a just-the-wrong-side-of-preposterous sequence in which an enormous round bomb pinballs through the streets of Rome. (That’s the good stuff.) The rest is just so much scattered character work—fleeting sketches and disconnected gobs of exposition that ill serves most every returning character and a few new ones—amidst some of the franchise’s limpest fight choreography and dopiest plotting, near abstract in its confusion and lack of emotional reality. That, too, peaks early when Rita Moreno, tears in her eyes, hugs Diesel while the score swells with a treacly reprise of “See You Again.”

I felt myself straining to enjoy myself, or at least tell the straw man hater in my imagination that, no, they aren’t usually like this. That said, I did find it merely disappointing and perplexing more than outright enraging, like the movie’s an overworked engine running off the last wispy fumes of my affection for this whole dumb fun series. Perhaps landing more frustratingly incomplete than anything else, the movie, advertised as the first half (or maybe third) of a finale, simply throws a bunch of nonsense in the air and then ends abruptly. Maybe they’ll figure it out next time. (Maybe it’ll take yet another round of villain-to-ally arcs or back-from-the-dead or secret-relative revelations to really stick the landing again.) A satisfying resolution may not make this particular entry any better, but at least it wouldn’t leave the franchise stranded on the side of the road with nothing left in the tank. That’s the sinking feeling that had me slump out of the multiplex grumbling that the exuberant F9 would’ve made a better finale—so far.

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