'Fast X' review: Running on empty
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Family, family, and family is the primary hook of “Fast X” the 10th (!) film in the sprawling, mind-numbing “Fast and Furious” franchise (not counting spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw”). The series itself has become a running joke at this point, including characters within the universe tongue-and-cheekily calling out how improbable it is they’ve managed to survive the outlandish and ludicrous missions in the 20+ years since we met Dominic Toretto and the gang when they were stealing DVD players.
Oh how far we’ve come. In “F9,” two characters catapulted themselves into space (!!) and then landed safely back on earth with no major injuries. During “Fast X,” I watched what was the equivalent of a live action Rocket League/Pinball match with a nuclear bomb in the middle of Rome and nobody was harmed or killed. Whatever is flowing through Dominic’s veins that allows him to emerge unscathed after his car goes up in flames should be studied by doctors across the globe.
Sure, the filmmakers and general audiences would say you need to “just not think.” Yet, we already reached that peak fifteen times before in “Fast Five” when Bryan and Dominic dragged a gigantic safe through the streets of Rio De-Janeiro, demolishing historical landmarks in the process; or in “The Fate of the Furious” when Dwyane Johnson kicked a missile into oncoming traffic while driving a tank on a sheet of ice in Antarctica. Obviously, we’re past the point of reality, because, you know, family.
What’s really missing: is the heart. In “Fast X” every character from the filmography is brought back into the fold, including those we assumed had died (rule of thumb: if you don’t see it with your own eyes: it probably didn’t happen. Then again, I was convinced Han exploded in “Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift” and Letty in “Fast & Furious” after seeing it with my own eyes, so what do I know?) When you’re forced to juggle a million subplots on top of the convoluted mechanics of the main narrative thread, it doesn’t leave much for those intimate one-handers that became a cornerstone of the franchise when Paul Walker was still alive. On top of that, “Fast X” deepens the lineage by throwing new faces into the mix as if the deluge of secondary characters you forgot about from “Fast & Furious 6” wasn’t enough. You need a flowchart to keep everything straight.
One face who seems to understand how far off-the-rails this series has gone is Jason Momoa, who is playing new franchise baddie Dante Reyes (the Thanos to Dominic and his vehicular Avengers). An opening prologue, set during the events of “Fast Five,” tells us Dante is out for blood after Dominic executed his father during that memorable stunt in Rio. Cut to the present, Diesel’s soft-spoken patriarch is raising his son alongside Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), content to leave his past life behind, settle down and teach the next generation about cars and life. That is until Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up on his doorstep with an omniscient warning about Dante’s army and his relentless attitude towards making Dominic pay for his sins (“Death is not substantial when suffering is owed”).
This puts the entire crew in jeopardy, including fan favorites Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), but others get roped into the globetrotting revenge plot too, like Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, John Cena’s Uncle Jakob, and new characters Tess (Brie Larson), Isabel (Daniela Melchior) and some lackluster cameos. Collectively, they amass three minutes of screentime across the movie’s nauseating two-and-a-half-hour trek, which, in the end, isn’t even a complete movie considering it ends in the middle of a scene, teeing up what’s rumored to be the final installment.
Director Louis Leterrier, who stepped in for Justin Lin one week into filming due to creative differences, does a serviceable job keeping the action kinetic, including the bonkers sequence in Rome, but also a scene where someone races their car down the side of the Hoover Dam as its exploding (seriously, you can’t make this up). And even though Momoa is trying something as the new baddie, his repertoire of zany one liners, memorable outfits, and painted nails wears thin by the hour mark.
The laws of physics and gravity notwithstanding, “Fast X” is just a tireless exercise in Diesel trying to deliver lines of emotional dialogue while people scream into walkie talkies and blow things up. There was a time you could forgive those shortcomings, because the endearing quality of the earlier films weren’t so much rooted in the outlandish stunts, but stronger, grounded scripts that understood the stakes without being corny or cheesy (although the stunts had more spark than the CGI gunk here). We’ve already jumped the shark twice and supposedly, depending on who you ask, there’s either one or two movies left in the pipeline. I’ll believe it when I see it. Oh wait.
FAST X opens in theaters Friday, May 19th.