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Review: 'F9: The Fast Saga' signals franchise is running out of gas

Courtesy of Universal Pictures


Long gone are the days when “The Fast and Furious” franchise was about a squad of badasses traversing the deserted streets, racing illegally in slick new custom wheels. Returning to direct his fifth installment (and first major outing in eight years), Justin Lin is trying to inject whatever Looney Tune mania he can in “F9: The Fast Saga,” the delayed mega-blockbuster that’s about family, overt, highly convoluted governmental operations and John Cena’s chin size. The “Fast” series - which, in my opinion peaked with 2011’s bonkers “Fast Five” - has jumped the shark numerous times to where the motto of “F9” isn’t about the suspension of disbelief (we’re already past that) but let’s toss several character subplots and throw as much mayhem, chaos and destruction on screen that perhaps audiences will become distracted and not focus on the non-existent story.

Remember when “Fast & Furious” was about stealing DVD players? Well in “F9,” the crew of misfits finally achieve the unthinkable: they literally shoot a car into space. The only frontier, up to this point, never accomplished by this crew, but even that bananas (and fairly comical for all the obvious reasons, namely a character trying to explain the physics of it all) can’t save “F9” from steering too far into absurdity. It does leave you to wonder where in the holy hell this franchise could go for the rumored final installment. There’s been chatter of a “Jurassic Park” and “Fast and Furious” crossover, which honestly wouldn’t be the least believable thing about this high octane series, but if this ragtag gang can’t figure out the logistics of time travel, they should probably stay home.

Cheerily made with the energy of the Tasmanian devil, “F9” attempts to take audiences back to the beginning, offering a bogus and awkwardly forced series of flashback sequences documenting Dom’s early days in 1984 and the eventual fallout with the film’s primary antagonist, his brother Jacob. The present day Dom (Vin Diesel who’s just given up at this point) is living a secluded life on the farm with Letty (Michelle Rodriquez) and teaching his youngest the basic fundamentals of wrenches and bolts not worried about the past and focusing on the future (“Bryan and Mia got out of the game when they had children” he mutters).

Duty calls when the old brigade arrives with a strange transmission of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) screaming of a rogue agent who's just taken “Fate of the Furious” baddie/criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron - try to keep up) hostage. What ensues is a thirty minute standoff in the jungle where Dom and Letty along with franchise staples Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) drive through a field of landmines (they don’t explode, of course, because they go vroom vroom so fast) and defy the laws of gravity by somehow caravanning across a collapsing bridge. The less said when Dom Air Jordan’s his vehicle from a cliff and uses the suspension strand from said collapsed bridge to land on the other side and doesn’t receive a single scratch, the better. That Roman, in the next scene, becomes self-aware and monologues about the crazy stunts they’ve done and gotten lucky enough to survive each encounter is beyond parody. Likewise for Tej urging everyone to “trust the math, because numbers don’t lie.”

If your brain isn’t fried at this point, “F9” introduces the “rogue” agent in the form of John Cena’s Jacob (aka Dom’s little bro) who is searching for a giant MacGuffin that’s naturally the key to world domination. We also see our heroes caught in a car chase with ultra-powerful electromagnets strong enough to drag giant trucks across cluttered lanes of traffic while not affecting other vehicles in the vicinity. To his credit, Lin doesn’t ask the audience’s blessing in how some of these wacky stunts are accomplished, but they never arise to an area of slapstick, goofy fun (think the vault chase sequence in Rio at the end of “Fast Five”). We’re so caught up in the audacity of what’s unfolding that it becomes a tireless exercise trying to keep all the gear shifts straight. The script, not written by series regular Chris Morgan, could’ve used another peek under the hood as much of the cheesy, wooden dialogue remains canon.

The overarching soap operatic themes of family notwithstanding-and other players from earlier films coming around to make everything full circle (including some new faces)-“F9” brings a rare sense of commodity to the screen, one of the last pure-bred and homegrown franchises that actually got better with age. The camaraderie among these performers and their dedication to thrilling audiences across the globe is certainly commendable, but in order to get this series back on track and to, allegedly, go out with a bang, the next installment will need a serious tune-up.

Grade: C-

F9: THE FAST SAGA opens in theaters Friday, June 25th


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