Film Review: The Fate of the Furious

A cyber-villain forces Dom Toretto to turn against his family in the latest installment in the blockbuster franchise.
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The eighth in the long-running series, The Fate of the Furious recycles earlier Fast and Furious plots and throws in bits and pieces from rival movies as well. Franchise fatigue is setting in, but this is still as close to a box-office lock as Hollywood movies get.

However, writer Chris Morgan is definitely running out of room to maneuver. Series regulars—hotheaded, soft-hearted Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), his amnesiac girlfriend (and now wife) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), plus-size Fed agent and doting dad Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)—are locked into rigid storylines, with little room to grow. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) are still bickering, mostly over computer whiz Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), whose "God's Eye" program drove the last outing, Furious 7. Ace bad guy Deckhard Shaw (Jason Statham) may be in prison, but he's too big a star to remain there long.

By the time the obligatory opening chase (this one in Cuba) is done, and the sprawling cast introduced, it feels like The Fate of the Furious has used up half its running time. Gone is the grittiness of earlier entries, when the grease-stained heroes would clank around dismembered car engines, drinking beers and dreaming up heists. Gone are the Romeo and Juliet romantic entanglements, the Godfather family dynamics. Dom and his bros used to worry about staying out of jail; now the fate of the world is in their hands. Again.

Somehow the Fast and Furious crew have become the blue-collar, highly diverse alternative to James Bond or Mission: Impossible, with the same gadgets, the same immense sets ripe for destruction, the same icy villains (a slumming Charlize Theron this time, playing some kind of dreadlocked hacker named Cipher), the same surveillance cameras and arrays of computer screens and nuclear countdown clocks.

Morgan and director F. Gary Gray have enough money to put anything they want into play, from giant wrecking balls to zombie cars dropping from the sky. Unfortunately, their inspiration largely comes from other movies (and the occasional TV commercial—an effects-heavy chase in New York City runs like a Carfax ad in reverse). The giddy, helter-skelter spirit of series highlight Fast Five has been swallowed up by corporate decisions about branding and demographics.

But why fight the inevitable? As bloated and unwieldy as it might be, The Fate of the Furious is a machine for making money. And despite his drawbacks as an actor, Vin Diesel is a very generous star. There's time for everyone here, from Dom's other wife to celebrity drop-ins like Kurt Russell and Dame Helen Mirren. True, many of the longstanding characters have been whittled down to playful little stereotypes, and those pesky plot demands prevent the fights fans crave, like Dom vs. Hobbs, or Hobbs vs. Shaw.

Those diehards will have to settle for the movie's brief bursts of adrenaline: Johnson showing off his brute strength, Statham his agility and finesse, Diesel fixing his arm to the wheel.

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