It would be difficult to adequately explain just how irritating a film I found the latest in the Fast Saga, F9, to be.
There was, quite literally, not a single moment of the film I enjoyed. I suppose, if pressed to express a positive because of my usual kind nature, I could possibly note that both Tyrese Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges continue to be among the most interesting of the Fast performers despite also consistently being saddled with some of the most inept situations and dialogue.
More about that later.
Co-writer and director Justin Lin aims for a tugging of the heartstrings throughout F9, an aim that is so wildly off that I regularly found myself laughing rather than being emotionally moved and an aim sabotaged by characters who remain paper thin nine films into the series.
I am not a Fast hater, though neither am I a devotee of any sort. I've given some films in the series a positive review, though it seems like the longer it continues the more the saga drowns in its own sense of self-importance.
F9 is not an important film. F9 is a silly film.
The film's opening scene seems to be searching for something resembling emotional resonance, a retro-vibed racing scene on an actual race track featuring younger versions of Dom, his brother Jakob, and his father. It's a tragic scene, really, that never really feels tragic and I'm hesitant to confess it made me laugh after the third or fourth slo-mo tracking shot. It sets the stage, of course, for the film that is to follow as two brothers have their family squabble threaten the future of the world in such a way that never convinces and in such a way that we're pretty darn sure we know exactly how it's going to all play out.
Of course, no one actually goes to a Fast film for thought-provoking cinema. So, I suppose on some level one can't deny that Justin Lin has the Fast ingredients down pat and he certainly delivers the outrageousness here.
We catch up ever so briefly with Dom (Vin Diesel), now far removed from life on the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) as they dedicate themselves to raising Dom's kid. It's a fast and loose dedication that takes only a few moments to distract away from the "commitment" as Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) show up with a grainy video of a distraught Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and before we can mumble "Family Means Everything!" the entire gang is back together trying to get their hands on your stereotypical doomsday gadget that threatens all of mankind.
So, yeah. Of course, let's place the future of the world in Dom's hands. Again.
While the Fast films have never really been concerned with realism, F9 really pours on the bomb-diggity CGI effects and self-awareness that falls flat. For example, there's a couple characters who repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly, reflect on the fact that despite the ludicrous, or should I say Ludacris, nature of their gigs they somehow never end up with a scratch. The first time? It was cute. The third or fourth time? It was a bad Adam Sandler comedy.
Charlize Theron is back as Cipher and waxing eloquently time and again with a bowler haircut that looks like she stumbled in from Bucky Larson 2, a film I'd much rather see than ever have to sit through nearly 2 1/2 hours of this cinematic mess again. Don't get me wrong. Theron is solid here - she's one of Hollywood's most dependable actresses and she elevates nearly every film she's in. It's just that her story arc is utterly predictable and her dialogue sold only because Theron's too good of an actress to not sell it.
Lin weaves together genuine action shots with CGI that is often such a mess I can't help but wonder if M. Night directed here. The action set-ups in the Fast films are always a bit over-the-top, but here they're over-the-top and incoherent.
There's a good 90-minute film here that may very well have been extraordinary to watch. Unfortunately, the finished motion picture runs right about 145-minutes and we spend so much time in group chats with the gang that I was never sure if we were having group therapy or getting ready to roast marshmallows.
The real tragedy here is that there's a genuine effort to make an entertaining and genuinely meaningful film. The Fast films have always had family at their core and F9 is no exception. It seems like Lin is trying to tap into the post-Paul Walker Fast & Furious 7, a film that clicked because it was fueled by grief and loss. F9 too often equates slo-mo with emotional resonance while putting forth paint-by-numbers dialogue that is achingly flat in an ensemble cast that does fine with the usual Fast fare but can't quite keep up with Lin's search for a deeper meaning here.
There are exceptions.
As I noted, Gibson and Bridges are a joy together even when the film goes, well, out of this world.
As the film's tone switches about 2/3 of the way through, Jordana Brewster comes beautifully to life. By now, Michelle Rodriguez is Letty.
However, far too often a series that has always been slick and stylish is chaotic and poorly choreographed in F9. Far too often, F9 stretches for an impact it doesn't earn and congratulates itself for snagging a reaction it doesn't actually snag. F9 is a relentless action flick with inconsistent pacing and an original score from Emmy-nominated Brian Tyler that overwhelms an already overwhelming film.
The fans who have always filled the seats for the Fast films are likely to do so again for F9. Paper thin or not, these are characters that you can't help but like even though you don't know much more about them in F9 than you did in The Fast & The Furious released twenty years ago.
You've seen practically everything that unfolds in F9 before, well, with the possible exception of a Pontiac Fiero that actually runs.
While the cast chemistry is as strong as ever, F9 crashes faster than a Pontiac Fiero driving 20 miles per hour and overheating by the side of the road.
For the record, that's fast.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic