THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Chris Morgan
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges
Screened at: AMC 34th Street, NYC, 4/11/17
Opens: April 14, 2017
If you were researching a term paper for your film history class on the topic “The Early Use of Vehicles by the Film Industry,” you would undoubtedly mention the first narrative film, “The Great Train Robbery,” released in 1903 when cars were first appearing in the U.S.. The movie, inspired by an actual robbery of the Union Pacific in 1900 in which four men blew a hole in the safe and took off with $5,000 cash, must have been the year’s most exciting event to its audiences, many of whom ducked under their theater chairs when the characters appeared to jump from the screen. Imagine if, instead of seeing that as the first viable, commercial picture, they were introduced to “The Fate of the Furious.” Really, in 1903! The event would have made eclipsed the Wright Brothers’ maiden flight in North Carolina and would position director F. Gary Gray to be Time magazine Man of the Year if Time had such an award then.
So granted: “The Fate of the Furious” is a technological marvel, but unlike the folks 115 years ago, we have gotten accustomed to crashing cars, exploding helicopters, well-aimed torpedoes, countless bullets from machine guns bolted to the tops of cars, even a revolver or two pointed at people but completing the act of killing in only one such case. Really, folks, have you had enough of such wall-to-wall mayhem? I guess not. “The Fate of the Furious” is set to break opening weekend box office records.
More interesting, to me at least, is that the film gave jobs to three hundred Cuban people in Havana, namely transportation coordinators, producers, location advisors, drivers and the like for six months. This is what may have worried Fidel, that the big bad capitalists were handing more money out to the local extras in six months than doctors make in a year. Even “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,” filmed there in 2013, required elaborate permissions from both Washington and Havana, so one imagine what red tape may have frustrated many an executive before this one could approved, but one incentive that seems to have worked was the money that the U.S. gave to the state-run Cuba Institute of Cinematographic Art. We’re supporting Communism? That’s one way of looking at it. Anyway, look for feature articles on how the U.S.-Cuba deal was made.
This installment, the eighth in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, one sadly missing Paul Walker, had early segments shot in Old Havana and Centro Havana. These were the most interesting scenes in the movie, including the singular case of a soulful exchange when Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on his honeymoon with Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). A sneering, local bully seeks to take off with Dom’s cousin’s heap. They agree to a race, the winner taking the other driver’s car. Dom strips the jalopy to its very essence, continuing just behind the bully even when fire engulfs what’s left of the vehicle, but darn if the hero doesn’t cross the finish line first—and by driving backwards in the final stretch. If you believe that, you can believe anything you see, but “The Fate of the Furious” is not about being rational, credible, justifiable, but about technology.
Cipher (Charlize Theron) introduces herself to Dom, seeming to know all about him and demanding that he work for her, showing something on a cell phone that makes him go rogue to the distress of Dom’s crew including Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris Bridges), his wife Letty, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and later agents Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood). What passes for Cipher’s motive as chief villain is her desire to teach superpowers a lesson so that only she, and not they, will be able to explode nuclear bombs. In that interest, she captures a nuclear code from a Russian defense minister in New York, though not before threatening to cut his car and him into two neat parts. She will then dictate “accountability,” warning the superpowers never to explode another such bomb.
To make an overlong story just long, the convoluted plot finds Luke breaking out of jail along with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), his rival, Computers—not your father’s computers and not yours but some that you’ve seen before only in action-adventure movies—are tap-tap-tapped to dazzle the audience, even one giant machine that starts cars in New York operating with no input from their drivers, and of course crashing, flying through the air, dodging fireballs and the like. As for writing, the script allows for just one memorable remark: that the trouble with putting your foot on a tiger is that you would not be able to take it off—which could remind moviegoers of the movie “Mine” about a soldier who steps on an IED in the desert and will not be able to move for fifty-two hours, when rescue arrives.
There is every indication that there will be a “Fast and Furious” episode 9, perhaps filmed in other parts of the world than this episode 8 which takes us from Havana to Berlin to New York and Russia, though Iceland stands in for that last country. This is expensive moviemaking, but one which lacks convincing performances, a lyrical script, a realistic set of conflicts. “The Fate of the Furious” (who’s furious, by the way?) is a technological dream but about as soulful as your computer monitor’s advertising “Black screen of death.” People who turn up their noses not so much at action adventure films, which can be quite good, but at off-the-wall repeated mayhem such as we see here, can be considered snobs. What are movie snobs like? They believe that from good books, films and theater, we learn something about the human condition. If instead of a steady diet of video games like this one, you want to know what people are really like, people who are not just like you and your friends and family, you might continue seeing popcorn movies by all means. But be open as well to be entertained not exclusively by special effects and visual effects but by honest, funny, tragic, melodramatic and complex illustrations of human character and personality.
Rated PG-13. 136 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?