The Fast/Furious series has been one of the most resilient franchises in recent memory. For better or worse it has reinvented itself more than once, survived the departure and return of one of the lead actors, scrambled its timeline without warning, and broken every law of physics known to man. Perhaps more surprising is that as each episode is manufactured both their box office numbers grow and the ensemble cast increases in size and prestige. (There are two Oscar winners in this one!) But does this series still have enough gas to keep going, or is it about to stall?
The lengthy pre-credit opener on “F8” is clearly a throwback to the roots of the franchise. Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty(Michelle Rodriguez) are on their Honeymoon in Cuba surrounded by classic cars and beautiful bodies. Dom’s cousin finds himself in trouble with a local hustler so Dom steps in to solve the issue the only way he knows how. A Street Race! After boasting it never matters what’s under the hood, only the driver behind the wheel, Dom ends up inside a rust bucket that hasn’t run a respectable quarter mile since the 60s. The race that follows is so incredibly ridiculous it’s impossible to not be entertained on one level or another. A gimmicky “poor man’s turbo” utilizing a pop-can-tab and a piece of string, visible engine parts that glow red hot, and an aerial vehicular launch that is just as impressive as it is silly.
Shortly after the opening credits, Dom is approached by a cyber terrorist known as CIPHER (Charlize Theron). What she shows him on a cell phone rocks his world, will make him endanger his entire team, and at one point causes a single manly tear to stream down his cheek. The plot zips ahead incomprehensibly as Dom goes into full betrayal mode and the MacGuffins begins to stack up. One might assume that in a franchise like this, the episodes would almost be interchangeable. This is not the case for “F8” as there is an astounding number of cameos, references and plot points tying back to the previous three films. A “Previously on the Fast and the Furious” prolog could have been quite helpful.
There’s a youthful, naive, optimistic feel to these stories that the intro captures well. No matter what happens, the prime directive of this hodgepodge group of super-drivers is “Family First” regardless if your family is related by blood or choice. As for the action scenes, they’re creativity and ludicrousness can only be rivaled by a young boy with a box of Hot Wheels. When done correctly with practical effects, real cars, and just a touch of common sense, these action sequences can be highly entertaining. Conversely, when they decide to cheap out and use CGI instead, the action quickly crosses the cheesy/fun line and becomes annoying.
While the dialog is made up almost entirely of insults, quips, and shocked explicatives, there are some standout moments for a couple of the actors. Both Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham steal the screen anytime they show up, and their scenes together are particularly enjoyable. Charlize Theron always has a delightful screen presence, but her character is so one dimensional and dull that it’s difficult to take her villainy seriously. It doesn’t help that the most action she gets is furiously typing on a keyboard. That hacker trope was already tired by the late 90s.
Even though this film relishes in its absurdness, it does cross one line that it should not. With its total disregard for physics and logic, the most unbelievable part of the movie is Dom’s choice to keep this secret from his team. The writer’s break their own prime directive and the entire movie suffers because of it. The Dom we know and love would have gone to his team immediately after Cipher approached him and planned out a slew of double, triple, and quadruple crosses. Instead, we’re forced to suspend one more level of disbelief in order for the writers to appease the latest screenplay fad of pitting heroes against each other in increasingly ridiculous ways. (BvS, Captain America: Civil War, Transformers 5)