Get back in the car

‘Furious’ franchise lifts its foot off the gas

Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Ludacris, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham and Michelle Rodriguez. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0

With The Fate of the Furious—easily the most stupidly titled installment in the Furious franchise (yes, even more stupid than Tokyo Drift)—you get to see the single most disgusting, stomach-churning, horrifying moment in cinema so far this year. That would be when Charlize Theron plants a big, sloppy kiss on Vin Diesel, the visual of which being some kind of “Girl From the Film Monster Meets the Michelin Man” nightmare. Some five years ago, I made up a list of five things I never wanted to see, and that came in at No. 3, right under “Donald Trump as President” and “Spiders in My Scrambled Eggs Being Served to Me by a Man With Weeping Hand Sores.”

Somewhere along the way, the Furious franchise went completely bonkers and became less about cars racing around and more about dudes who think hair on the top of their heads is total bullshit and that upper arms should be the size of a bull’s torso.

It also went off on some sort of international spy team tangent—something that actually worked to a hilarious degree in Furious 7. But with The Fate of the Furious, the franchise trajectory becomes ridiculous without much fun. It’s just dumb and plodding.

The big thing here is that Dominic Toretto (Diesel) has gone rogue and turned on his family, which has something to do with a cyber villain named Cipher (Theron) and her crazy dreadlock extensions.

The film opens with Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) having a good old time in Cuba. Dominic gets into a car race that involves his vehicle catching fire and him speaking in a growling, marble-mouthed manner. Post race, he’s approached by Cipher wearing a stunning dress-down outfit involving denim shorts. Dominic takes a look at something on her cellphone, mumbles and groans a bit, and the international intrigue begins.

Turns out, Cipher is after nuclear launch codes and electro-magnetic pulse contraptions, and Dominic becomes her pit bull. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) are eventually employed by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to go get Dominic and see what’s going on in that big Barry Bonds-size head of his.

Let it be noted that the portions of the film that involve Johnson and Statham are good, good enough to inspire thought of a spinoff film where their characters join up and solve crimes while fighting Batman, Sylvester Stallone, Godzilla, etc. A very real chance at something like that apparently got squashed because Diesel screamed, “Mine, mine, mine, all mine!” and put the kibosh on it.

The biggest problem is that things are taken a little too seriously this time out. Heavy doses of drama are ladled into a mix that includes Diesel having his “Denzel Washington in Glory Tear” moment wherein a single solitary tear rolls down the cheek while the actor does his best to remain stone-faced.

And the whole premise of Dominic going rogue has zero dramatic tension for reasons I won’t give away, but I’ll just put it out there that there’s little mystery behind his “traitorous” actions. Also, and this goes without saying, he mopes a lot.

The Furious franchise will go on, obviously. Hopefully, producer Diesel will remember what makes the whole thing occasionally fun and shift the emphasis from him squirting tears back to cars going “vroom, vroom!” and jumping between skyscrapers and over the Grand Canyon.