It’s party time for action junkies and auto-erotics. The Fate of the Furious, a.k.a. Furious 8, is a bolt of greased lightning that never lets up on the shake, rattle and hum. Is it as killer good as 2015’s Furious 7? Don’t get greedy. That thunderously exciting and surprisingly touching blockbuster would have made the ideal capper to the Fast and the Furious franchise that began in 2001. As a tribute to Paul Walker, who died in car crash unrelated to the movie, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth put their feelings on the soundtrack in honor of the actor who played Brian O’Connor, the undercover cop who infiltrated an outlaw gang of East L.A. street racers run by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). The song was called “See You Again” and gave the franchise a chance to shred its tires and still go out with a shred of dignity.
That didn’t happen. Since Furious 7 was the wowser hit of the series ($1.5 billion worldwide), F&F was too golden a goose to stop squeezing for eggs. So rev up for The Fate of the Furious, which is reportedly the first part of a trilogy that will finally retire the series. And despite the fact that Fate plays like a mix tape of Furious greatest hits, it’s still got the juice. Walker death doesn’t stop this engine – we’re told that Brian is off the grid with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their baby. Dom and the gang are ready to pick up the slack with stunts that defy logic and gravity. Can you really carjack a nuke-powered Russian submarine? You can if over-the-top is your default position. Furious 8 is riding so high on the fumes of success that the roles of two new villains have been cast with Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren. How is Christoph Waltz not in this?
F. Gary Gray (Straight Out of Compton) takes the directing reins from James Wan (who succeeded Justin Lin), and his fresh bag of tricks is actually straight out of the James Bond playbook. Street races are so 16 years ago. The big thing now is world annihilation, which makes globe trotters of Dom’s street fighters. Cuba, New York, Russia, you name it. The budget is bloated and so is the plot, which screenwriter Chris Morgan tripwires to give the illusion that everyone in the overcrowded cast has something frisky to do. They don’t. Diesel basically glowers. And Tyrese Gibson and Chris (Ludacris) Bridges are reduced to comic relief.
The major twist is that Dom goes rogue and turns bad guy. The big lug has been brought over to the dark side by Theron’s Cipher, a she-devil superhacker who aims to capture nuclear warheads (or something) and bring world leaders to their knees. What does she have on Dom? I’ll never tell. But it’s enough to make him turn against his “family,” which is a cardinal sin in the F&F universe. Theron showed action chops and stellar acting range in Mad Max: Fury Road, but Furious 8 is not in that iconic class. Mostly, Theron barks orders from a military airplane where she’s stuck for most of the movie. (Maybe studio execs didn’t promise Theron she could shoot all her scenes in a week on one set and earn millions, but it sure looks like it.)
The storyline takes so many detours it’s impossible to follow (read F&F business as usual). Things start up with Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, wasted here) honeymooning in Cuba (how topical) and sneaking in a street race when Dom’s not between the sheets. That’s when Cipher pounces with her EMP threats. It’s also when government shark Mr. Nobody (the always welcome Kurt Russell) and his idiot protégé (Scott Eastwood) hatch a plan to turn Dom’s team against him. The feds engineer a prison break for framed lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his mortal enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) so Dom will be cornered at every turn. The “Dirty Dozen” stuff isn’t remotely believable. But it does allow the Rock and Statham to take over the movie, which is a very good thing. These dudes are believable bruisers with a real sense of fun. A little bit of the movie dies when they’re not onscreen.
All is not lost. The stunts define spectacular. There’s a slam-bang moment when Cipher turns every self-driving car in Manhattan into her own demolition derby, shrieking “it’s zombie time.” Maybe for the script, but not for the stunts. The pop-absurdist finale, set on a Russian glacier, is a digital hellzapoppin. And isn’t that all we want from these speed chasers? Is it enough? Probably not. The Fate of the Furious doesn’t have a thought in its head to match the best of Bond and Bourne. What it is, in every sense of the term, is insanely entertaining.