Ever since Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson entered the franchise with Fast Five, the Fast & Furious films have increasingly distanced themselves from their now-quaint LA street-racing roots, becoming instead gigantic international caper films that have the characters shooting missiles at submarines from muscle cars. Now Johnson’s character, Luke Hobbs, has his own spinoff entry (technically the ninth in this series) along with Jason Statham’s reformed bad guy Deckard Shaw, with whom he shared some amusing banter in the last movie. Hobbs & Shaw certainly sticks to the global stakes: a virus might destroy all life on Earth and there’s also a cybernetically enhanced villain. But the film around them is empty of anything except the most generic blockbuster wheezing, so loosely conceived that it seems more obvious than ever that these movies are built from the pre-vized action sequence up. Any dialogue or story is pretty much just duct tape to stick the fights together.
Empty of anything except the most generic blockbuster wheezing.
Thing is, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Look to the increasingly ludicrous, and increasingly thrilling, Missions: Impossible movies for a shining example of both craft and attention to character. Hobbs & Shaw merely sticks two knuckleheads together to repeatedly try to one-up each other with stupid bro rhetoric that quickly exhausts what little chemistry they have in favor of actual, honest-to-goodness “Your mom…” jokes. They bicker in front of Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who’s a pathetic stereotype of what Hollywood considers a strong female character (she’s as tough as a man, the end). And let’s not even go into the disastrous extended cameos from Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds. Ostensibly the action sequences, the only things that really matter here, would handily make up for such shortcomings, but while director David Leitch shows some always-apparent skill in making big, chaotic scenes at least legible, the sheer digital weightlessness of the imagery, combined with some very generic handheld and overcutting, makes it all a huge shrug. Bad guy Idris Elba (with the Pynchon-esque name Brixton Lore) flying around on a transforming motorcycle, and the Rock jumping out of a skyscraper to catch some rappelling henchman, may sound good on paper, but as realized, both scenes amount to just a bunch of greenscreen work. There’s nothing wrong with the escalating absurdity of these movies, and their monofilament-thin narrative excuses for endless shtick and violence, but even by those standards, Hobbs & Shaw makes previous entries seem tightly-structured, monumentally exciting, and relatively coherent. Fast & Furious is supposed to mean crazy spectacle, not barely adequate product.