Former drag racer turned international bank robber Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has given up the life of the crime and settled down with his new girl Elena (Elsa Pataky) after the death of his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). CIA Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who was last seen on the hunt for Toretto and his gang, shows up at Toretto’s home – not to arrest him, but to ask for his help, as Hobbs is now trying to arrest Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his team of master criminals and drivers, who are currently making Hobbs’ cops look like idiots. And apparently, the only way to catch an international thief with crazy driving skills and his similarly equipped team is to employ another set of international thieves with crazy driving skills. So why on Earth would Dom agree to help his former foe? Well, it turns out Letty may not have died after all, as Hobbs has a photo of her working for Shaw, so Dom calls up his team, and they set to work.
Recently, I reviewed Star Trek Into Darkness, a film I admitted to being completely unqualified to review, given my dissociation with the entire Trek franchise apart from those made since 2009. Now I’m taking it even further by reviewing the latest Fast and/or Furious film, which is a series from which I’ve never seen a single film, and was absolutely guaranteed to hate, given my distaste for cars and driving (something of a theme with these films), and the fact that watching scantily clad underwear models writhing on cars does very little for me, plot-wise. Plus, I tend to appreciate good acting, something I can’t say I was really expecting from a film whose most recent casting addition was Gina Carano. So why did I even go and see this film? I didn’t get in free, I paid my traditional premier ticket price (as the film is over two hours long and my legs ain’t short). No, the reason is that I’m a podcast whore, and a slot opened up on the most reason episode of the Lambcast, whose topic of discussion was none other than this here film. Yep, I’ve only got myself to blame for this one, and I should probably warn you that there’s some spoilers coming, as much as this film can be spoilt.
Generally I like to go into films with an open mind, and I really don’t like assuming that I’m going to hate a film. This rarely ends well, and I’m afraid this was no exception. Well, hang on, I didn’t really go in expecting to hate it, I just went in expecting to know everything that was already going to happen, and I wasn’t keen on what I was expecting. So when everything began playing out exactly as I’d anticipated I was filled with a mixture of pride at being right and disappointment at not being wrong. It’s not as though I’m clairvoyant though. I knew everything that happened purely because I’d seen the trailer, which prides itself on showcasing every single set piece from the film, including the climactic points of several of them. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll have seen a chase down a freeway involving a tank, and later a plane being brought down by cars, before it gives birth to another car through its nose. The fact that there’s a tank in this film should have been a welcome and joyous surprise, a real fist-in-the-air moment that got my heart pounding and pulse racing, but I’d seen it charging down the motorway, crushing cars and causing chaos long before I even sat in the cinema. Likewise the plane is the focus of the entire climax, and whether it achieves takeoff is a key point of the plot, yet again before I’d even taken my seat I was aware that the plane would not only fail to take off, but would end up in a smouldering wreckage on the end of the (ridiculously long) runway. I need to learn to stop watching trailers, but it’s difficult to properly discuss a film before watching it without doing so, and I do love talking about films! I’m always brought back to the trailer for the Avengers, which featured a shot of Hulk catching Iron Man, so for Iron Man’s entire journey into space I was just sitting and waiting for him to fall back to Earth and be caught in a warm, loving, leaf-hued embrace.
Anyway, I shouldn’t hold a film’s marketing strategy against it. What I should hold against it is some really lazy screen writing. When Toretto is told about the possibility of Letty being alive and working for the rival gang of criminals, the only evidence he is given is a photograph in which her face is obscured. That’s it. Apparently this is proof enough to bring him out of retirement to work for the guy who was last seen trying to arrest him. Now, you’re probably thinking that Dom’s girlfriend Elena would have something to say about her man making plans to go and find his former partner, along the lines of a grandiose speech in which she proclaims her indignation at discovering she isn’t enough for this man. Well, it turns out she has no problems whatsoever about being passed over in favour of someone who for all intents and purposes they think is dead. And that’s not all. Paul Walker’s Brian has just fathered a baby boy, Jack, so of course when Dom comes calling to recruit him, Brian and his wife (Dom’s sister Mia, played by Jordana Brewster) will obviously turn down this opportunity, as Brian couldn’t possibly even think about leaving his wife and newborn to fend for themselves, should the worst happen and he lose his life during this inevitably incredibly dangerous mission. What? They’re more than happy to go ahead with it? Gah! Laziness! It’s as though the screenwriter knew he wanted to bring the whole team back together, but couldn’t be bothered to put the effort into coming up with a plausible and satisfying reason behind it. Which, as you may be able to tell, seriously aggravates me.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting this to be an intellectually challenging film, but there really is no excuse for writing a script where you may as well include the audience’s eye rolls in the screen directions.The film itself seems to acknowledge the futile purpose of its own plot when a key exposition scene in which Dwayne Johnson’s man-mountain Hobbs outlines the purpose for assembling the team is interrupted and talked over by a prat-falling Tyrese Gibson on the hunt for free snacks. Apparently it’s got something to do with Luke Evans and his team collecting a microchip or some gubbins, with which they can do untold damage, or something. When the film itself doesn’t care about its own plot, well then there’s really no hope for any of us. Some characters – and I use the term in its loosest possible definition – are given nonsensical quests, just to give them something to do. Brian – who I believe may have been the star and central character of at least the first two films – gets himself sent to prison and out again, just to obtain a trivial and eventually redundant piece of information. This did, however, give me the chance to see a proper actor on screen in the form of Boardwalk Empire‘s Shea Whigham, but alas his cameo was insulting brief, as was the appearance of British actor Stephen Marcus (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).
What the script does delight in is one-liners. At least every other line could have been taken out and put into the trailers as a standalone phrase, especially those spouted by Diesel, Gibson and Ludacris (or Chris Bridges, as he goes by when he’s acting). And my word, are there some dreadful put-downs here. The worst, in my opinion, is Letty’s denouncing of a muscle-bound colleague with the gem “Aren’t you team muscle? Don’t make me come over there and make you team pussy.” Not only is that terrible, it also doesn’t really make any sense. The film also briefly dabbled in the street racing origins of the series, featuring a race between Dominic and Letty through some alarmingly empty London streets, and through a route that as far as I could tell was neither planned in advance nor clearly signposted, yet both knew it like the back of their hands.
The action is decent enough, and I especially approved of a chase and scuffle through the London underground, featuring a brutal brawl between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano. I’m fairly sure Carano was cast purely for this scene, as she doesn’t get an awful lot to do for the rest of the film, which I’m fine with. The tank and plane set pieces were impressive enough, it just would have been better had I not been treated to them in the trailers, and had the infuriating kids sat behind me (who were not accompanied by the required adult for this 12-A film) kept the damn mouths shut during them. There were so many gasps of “Wow!” and “Oh my God” that I just wanted to backhand them. My word do I hate kids sometimes, it’s a good job I didn’t follow my first intended career path and become a teacher. The tank chase did feature easily the stupidest moment I’m likely to see all year – Diesel flying off his car to catch Letty in mid-air, only to have his fall broken by a car windscreen, which prompted a “Nice catch!” from the seats behind me and a stern look sent in the direction of the outburst. In fact, I was reeling so much from the insanity of what I’d just seen and the annoyance at my fellow viewers that I missed a fairly crucial part after that, involving how Evans’ character was briefly detained. Unless it wasn’t actually included, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be overly surprised. The plane scene, however, was stupidly set at night, making the endless onslaught of similar-looking cars driving around a plane in a straight line almost impossible to comprehend. There were too many people involved, all dealing with very similar things for me to fully understand what was going on.
As you’ve probably ascertained, I have no intention of seeking out the other films in this series. Apparently there is a franchise look-back Lambcast episode planned next year to coincide with the release of the seventh and – hopefully – final film in the franchise, and I have no plans to be any part of that episode. I just need to make sure I see more than 9 other films this year, to prevent this from ending up on my Top 10 of 2013.
Choose life 3/10