All the reviews keep talking about how diverse the cast of the Fast and the Furious movies are, so I got a nice moment of “What now?” when Dom takes Mia to a car meet called “Race Wars”. It’s a wonderfully tone deaf moment; I don’t know what they were thinking. These are not movies which do sarcasm or winks to the audience; one of the things I’ve liked about them is how sincerely stupid they are. These are movies which understand that once you’re into the world of fantasy, you can never waver. You can carry the audience into amazingly dumb places, laughing all the way, so long as you never admit there’s a problem.
But like so much else in the movies, blink and you’ve missed it. Dom and Mia are at Race Wars so that they can do a quarter mile drag race surrounded by slapperiffic women in bikinis, as all Fast and Furious movies are obliged to do. Then we get down to the serious business of chasing the McGuffin. Don’t ask why there’s a McGuffin. There’s always a McGuffin. I liked it better when they just stole boat loads of money.
This week’s McGuffin is a computer gizmo the size of a car key which somehow magically lets any computer connect to any device on the planet and track any person in the world by picking up their picture and their voice. I’d like to think this is impossible, but my youngest nephew will probably have one on his key ring by time he has a driving license. It’s basically a plot coupon; if Dom and the gang can get hold of it, they can use it to track down Dick Hard, I’m sorry, I meant Deckard Shaw, which brings me to the whole point of even being in the cinema.
It’s only the Stath, innit, in a Fast and Furious movie. I was cautious in my optimism about this when I first realised this was a thing which was going to happen, but still, the Stath bashing things up? I wasn’t going to skip that. He gets a great opening scene, paying a hospital visit to his injured brother (Luke Evans, completely in a coma, career best performance); after two minutes of emoting about the importance of brotherly love, the camera pulls back to show that the Stath has pretty much destroyed the hospital to get his family moment, and honestly the whole rest of the movie struggles to keep up with that opening.
Dom and the gang put the Stath’s brother in a coma, so he’s going to wreak furious vengeance upon them. This won’t do, so Dom and the gang need to get ahead of him and wreak a whole bunch of vengeance on him. Also in the mix; Kurt Russell as an unusually benign CIA skunkworks mastermind and Djimon Hounsou as the world’s best-equipped terrorist. Kurt is magnificent, of course; Djimon seems to be conducting an internal monologue “What would Morgan Freeman do there?” They’re fun and all, but the Stath is a more than adequate challenge all on his own; while Dom and the lads need to hunt down impossible technology to have any clue where their quarry has got to, the Stath shows up without fail right in the middle of EVERY caper the gang tries to pull.
The big chase in the middle is a perfect example of what these movies do best; it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t make any sense, and it’s still huge silly fun. To get the McGuffin, they have to get a prisoner off a bus driving through Azerbaijan. My heart goes out to the writers who have to come up with the increasingly convoluted explanations for why the only way to solve a problem requires a platoon of fast cars, but not to the extent that I’m going to risk brain damage by repeating them. The gang parachute half a dozen cars onto a remote mountain road so that they can catch the bus and its escorts unaware. Because of course they do. And the bus, when they catch it, has three mini-guns on both sides, and no weapons on the front or back, because of course it does. And despite the fact that this has all been hatched in secret, the Stath crashes the party anyhow. And who cares? the whole thing climaxes with Paul Walker running along the top of the bus as it falls off a cliff and jumping clear just in time to catch the spoiler on the back of a sports car. It’s magnificent, even if doesn’t make any sense.
None of the other chase and stunts are anything like as much fun. Everyone gets to beat someone up. Vin Diesel drives a car into the open air three different times, and every single time he tries to steer it, as if wiggling the front wheels will somehow make the slightest difference to where an airborne car is going to wind up. Djimon, bless him, is so well resourced that he doesn’t just have a battle bus, but an attack helicopter with its own jet drone. They chase the team around LA for the back half of the movie, burning missiles and jet fuel like there’s no such thing as reloads - seriously, the drone visibly has a three missile launch rail and fires half a dozen missiles …. The Rock shows up, and having shot the drone in the control box, grabs its minigun and shoots it from the hip for about ten times longer than he has bullets for. Since he’s the Rock, it seems safe to assume that he’s powering the gun with pure testosterone, where a lesser man might need a truck battery and an ammo belt more than three feet long. Meanwhile, the Stath and Vin Diesel are slugging it out in California’s most shoddily built car park; Djimon’s missiles smack in all around them, but it takes the stomp of Vin Diesel’s boot to bring the whole thing down around their ears before he jumps back into his car and does a Die Hard 4 straight at the hovering Djimon helo….
And there’s a butt load of emoting, but by now I almost feel like they’ve earned it. Even though Kurt Russell’s effortlessly the best actor in this movie and he’s still barely acting, the long-serving cast have built up enough good will and credibility that when Vin Diesel starts yamming on about family again, it rings true - corny, sure, but it feels right. These guys are cartoons, but with time and effort, they’ve become CONVINCING cartoons. Vin Diesel was plainly channeling his inner lunatic when he said this movie was going to get an Oscar, but he was right to think it was their best work so far.