The Fast & Furious franchise motors on in a convoluted spectacle that’s pure fan service, but ably delivers the popcorn cinema action goods. Everything old is new again in F9. The storyline digs deep into the Torreto family’s painful past, while bringing back supporting characters from previous films. It’s an all hands on deck reunion that obliterates credulity in nearly every scene. F9 continues the trend of going bigger to an absurd fault. This installment takes muscle cars into a new frontier. Which is laughable…until you realize Elon Musk actually pulled it off.
F9 opens with a young Dominic Toretto (Vinnie Bennett) and his little brother, Jakob (Finn Cole), dealing with an unimaginable tragedy. Decades later in the present, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have settled into a quiet rural life. Their seclusion is broken by old friends. Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) have brought a troubling message.
Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) is missing after a seemingly impossible aerial assault. He sent an encrypted SOS specifically to Dom’s trusted team. A dangerous secret is being targeted by a skilled operative. Dom quickly realizes that his brother (John Cena) has returned from the shadows. As he and Mia (Jordana Brewster) try to understand Jakob’s motives, others thought long gone resurface to help tackle an extremely personal new threat.
Director/co-writer Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow, Star Trek Beyond) returns with his fifth film in the saga, but first since Fast & Furious 6. He raises the franchise bar again with stunningly choreographed racing scenes. The street and track races in the first act are amazing. Lin then fires up the nitrous for superhero territory. The invincible cast shred baddies while wreaking havoc in multiple exotic locales. He unfortunately lost me when rocket cars in space factor into the equation. None of it is supposed to make sense. The action is understood to be purely escapist entertainment value. But Lin crosses over the bridge to stupid with the space antics. At that point you might as well go to Mars or back in time because anything is possible.
The Fast Saga works because the likeable ensemble cast have become familiar. Roman, Tej, and Ramsey provide the comic relief while the Torettos’ handle the drama. It’s a formula mixed with insane action that has been a sustainable hit. F9 spends a good deal of the two hour and twenty minutes runtime in the past. This is the crux of the narrative. The problem is that the younger versions of Dom and Jakob look nothing like their older selves. John Cena is a beast of a man. It’s impossible to believe that Finn Cole could “grow” to that stature. I can appreciate Justin Lin’s time spent on character development. But am completely befuddled by the casting of the younger versions. This misstep sabotages the film’s dramatic core.
F9 will have different reactions depending on your view of the earlier installments. If you liked Tokyo Drift, then seeing those characters reprised will be enjoyable. Others might find it a stale retread, or be confused because those characters haven’t been seen for fifteen years. Tokyo Drift is my favorite Fast & Furious film. The franchise was literally more grounded then. Despite major concerns, F9 ekes out a recommendation for slick races and nostalgia. Stick around during the credits. F9 is a production of Neil H. Moritz, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Joe Roth, and Vin Diesel’s One Race Films. It will be released theatrically in the United States on June 25th by Universal Pictures.
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