Combustible Celluloid
With: Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Charlize Theron, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Anna Sawai, Lucas Black, Shad Moss, Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Finn Cole, Vinnie Bennett, J.D. Pardo, Michael Rooker
Written by: Justin Lin, Daniel Casey, based on a story by Justin Lin, Daniel Casey, Alfredo Botello
Directed by: Justin Lin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language
Running Time: 145
Date: 06/25/2021

F9 (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Fallen from Chase

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The tenth movie in the never-ending Fast and Furious series — counting the spinoff Hobbs & Shaw (2019) — F9, which opens Friday, is one of the summer's biggest movies, and one that the industry is pinning most of its hopes upon for bringing people back to the theater.

Viewers are going to have to be in a forgiving mood.

Fans of this series are used to looking past its ridiculousness, its braggadocio, and its soap opera-dramatics, to get to the good stuff, namely, the chases, fights, and explosions.

But there's only so far one can go. F9 does deliver the goods in a handful of scenes, and a few truly impressive, mind-blowing stunts. Then there's the other 80% of the 145-minute movie to contend with.

Directed by Justin Lin, in his fifth outing in this series (he was also behind numbers 3-6), the movie focuses on Dominic "Dom" Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his dark past.

Beginning with a flashback to 1989, young Dom cuts his racing teeth helping their race-car driver father.

Something goes terribly wrong during a race, and Dom and his younger brother Jakob have a huge falling-out. That might have been enough information to fuel what little plot there is here, but the flashbacks continue throughout the entire movie.

Then, in the present day, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living peacefully in a remote farmhouse, raising Dom's son.

By the way, it was revealed in Part 8, The Fate of the Furious, that Dom had a son he never knew about from a previous dalliance. These movies may be dumb, but viewers will have to be fairly familiar with their extensive lore.

The peace is interrupted quickly, when Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrive.

They bring with them a garbled, twitchy video message from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell); why does malfunctioning video only look like that in the movies?

Apparently, someone is after a doomsday device called Project Aries. Two halves of the device must be obtained, followed by a secret "key" that activates them.

The team heads out to find the first half of the device, leaving behind the small child with apparently no one watching him. (There may be an explanation for this, but it's sillier and stranger than one would dare imagine.)

Following a huge chase scene, including an amazing segment involving a rickety rope bridge, the modern-day Jakob (John Cena, making his F&F debut), snatches up the first piece of the device and drives off.

Essentially, as in every "must collect the three pieces of a thingamajig" story, the bad guys manage to get the doomsday device working, and then it's up to our heroes to stop it, preferably as the final, world-ending upload gets to around 99.9%.

Fortunately, this task involves two of the team members going where no F&F team member has gone before: into space. This is another of the movie's precious few, super-cool scenes.

Along the way, we are treated to many chases. In the last movie, The Fate of the Furious, the filmmakers cooked up a wide array of crazy things, including a wrecking ball whooshing through city blocks and thwacking cars off the road, and an actual chase between motor vehicles and a submarine!

In F9, almost all of the chase scenes involve a batch of high-powered electromagnets, which, mounted in the backs of various vehicles, have the power to pull parked cars in front of moving cars, or yank metallic objects out of store windows as the heroes pass by.

It's fun for a while, and the stunts are varied, but the basic idea is repeated... again and again.

Sadly, for smaller scenes, such as a martial arts fight inside an apartment, Lin falls back on his old jerky, twitchy camerawork that is supposed to suggest, but only creates, chaos.

Additionally, this series's usual "family" theme is largely concentrated on Dom and Jakob. It's a dull conflict, predictable, and overly serious. Cena gets to use none of his natural humor, and Diesel spends the whole movie with an unvarying grim expression on his face.

Other "family" stuff involves past cast members re-appearing — such as Cipher (Charlize Theron), Queenie (Helen Mirren), and Sean (Lucas Black), among others — poised mainly for the audience's reaction of recognition, but used for little else.

Recognizing characters and feeling them are two different things. Perhaps this franchise's DNA is the problem. In the beginning, the films were nothing but characters trying to out-cool and out-swagger one another. Perhaps that fear of being uncool still lingers.

Perhaps the filmmakers feared that being silly or being honest are the antithesis of cool, when the opposite is actually true. If F9 had mustered the courage to acknowledge its own ridiculousness, it could have roared off into the sunset, rather than sputtering out.

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