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Thursday, April 20, 2017 12:04 am

Fun Fate a worthy Furious entry

Vin Diesel as Dom Toretto in Fate of the Furious.

 

It’s a long way from street racing on the mean streets of L.A. to saving the world James Bond style, but that’s the evolution the Fast and Furious franchise has taken, one that no one could have expected when the first film in the series debuted in 2001. Modest in every way, this was a small-potatoes production that featured a fairly contained plot and a story that was anchored not so much around the street races that put butts in seats, but rather the intimacy that developed between the characters.

This is the one constant in the Fast and Furious universe, and one that’s held in good stead as these features have become more and more outlandish. A welcome improvement over the far-too-serious and bloated Furious 7, F. Gary Gray’s Fate of the Furious is no less ridiculous than its predecessor, but a whole lot more fun. Fully aware that its audience doesn’t come looking for pithy dialogue or drawing room humor, the script by Chris Morgan revels in the ludicrous nature of this enterprise, yet does so with a sense of humor and self-awareness that helps the film’s bizarre plot twists go down a bit easier.

Starting with a thrilling street race in Havana, Cuba, we find our hero, Dom Toretto (one-expression thespian Vin Diesel), stuck between a rock and a hard place. Blackmailed with a secret from his past by the cyber-terrorist known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), he’s forced to help steal a wayward EMP device as well as a set of nuclear codes. Of course, this gets the attention of secret agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who decides the only one who can bring Dom in is his own crew, all of whom reluctantly agree to track down their old pal.

All the series’ familiar faces show up – Dwayne Johnson as former government agent Hobbs, Dom’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), bickering buddies Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris), beautiful hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and bad guy conveniently turned good guy Deckard (Jason Statham) – and, say what you will, they’re all firmly invested in their roles, thinly written though they may be.

Movies of this sort live and die by their action set pieces and Gray uses all the tools at his disposal to amaze. Whether it be a rolling blockade of driverless cars wrecking havoc on the streets of New York, Dom’s car being pinioned by four other autos with spiked cords, or an extended car chase over the icy Siberian plains while a submarine chases them under the ice, the director delivers again and again with crowd-pleasing moments that are short on logic but long on thrills.

While the reveal of why Dom turns turncoat is a bit of a stretch, in a franchise that used amnesia to bring back a deceased character, it actually comes off as rather restrained and clever. I’m not really sure how Dom pulls off the old switcheroo involving Deckard at the end or exactly why Cipher is doing what she’s doing or how she can afford the flying fortress she operates from. Then again, these are questions I or anyone else should be asking amidst all the vehicular carnage.

Fate is not the best entry in the series – that distinction still belongs to Fast Five – but it’s a welcome return to form. Credit goes to Gray for bringing back and sustaining a sense of fun throughout. After all, any film that features Jason Statham shooting and kicking a plane full of bad guys with an infant in a baby carrier in tow follows the beat of its own drum. That it manages to be as entertaining as it is, is some kind of miracle.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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