The “Fast and Furious” series made its name on ‘family,’ or the concept of a family formed out of disparate persons coming together for a common cause. The films have gone the world over and seen The Rock, Kurt Russell, and Helen Mirren join its ranks. They’ve even branched out into a sub-series featuring The Rock’s character, Luke Hobbs. Paul Walker, the co-lead in the film that started it all 20 years ago this week, is celebrated for his performances in “The Fast and Furious,” “Fast & Furious,” “Fast Five,” and “Fast & Furious 6” films.
The central character of the film series is Vin Diesel’s Dominic “Dom” Toretto. In the latest entry in the series, Justin Lin’s (“Star Trek Beyond”) “F9,” never has a character been so omnipresent in his own story.
The story, screenplay by Lin and Daniel Casey, introduces multiple family layers, blood, and gathered. It makes for an interesting concept in that we are given a solid character-building moment in Dom and his relationship with his father, Jack (J. D. Pardo), and his brother, Jakob. The film starts by taking us back in time to a race in which Dom and Jakob are teenagers; Dom (Vinnie Bennett) full of piss and vinegar and the awkward Jakob (Finn Cole). The events that happen on the racetrack backfill some of Dom’s story and allow Diesel to play a more staid interpretation of Dom.
Lin and Casey comingle the backstory with the present story, where Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) plane has crashed in the mountains of a South American jungle. Dom’s reservations about taking another assignment, as it were, are felt throughout the story. This situation gives Michelle Rodriquez’ Letty a chance to be more assertive than she might have been in the past. Roman (Gibson) and Tej (Bridges) make the party that much more fun.
That’s the hallmark of a “Fast and Furious” film: fun. Yes, “F9” reaches a new height of overindulgence, and there were more than a few moments of eyes rolling in the back of their heads. But, let’s be honest – you don’t go to see a “Fast and Furious” film to satisfy intellectual curiosity, even though the film manages to blend science with know-how and tenacity.
John Cena was solid as Jakob, though I’m not sure the character’s development suited Cena’s style – he has one look on his face nearly all the time, and it was tough watching him try to emote; the story did a better job of carrying him than his performance.
Lin and Casey pepper the story with other characters from the past, and they manage to interconnect the characters and carry their arcs from previous entries nearly complete circle. I’ve heard criticisms regarding Charlize Theron in this latest entry, and I would say that they are unfounded – she got more in with looks, both in costume and on the eye line than most other actors could do with a limited role. That’s the point of her character, though – she’s meant to be menacing.
Where I struggle with “F9” is its concept. Yes, there are a multitude of layers. However, those layers feel like they got stuck on the track, going round and round in an endless circle, until it nearly collapses in on itself. Admittedly, it isn’t easy to connect dots from 10 other films with characters and locations spread throughout the world. “F9” benefits from splitting up the team as each has their separate adventures only to come back together as a team – a concept firmly rooted in family.
If you haven’t seen any other “Fast and Furious” films, “F9” is not the place to start. However, if you’re casually familiar with the world-building that Lin has managed to do over several of the entries, or you like crazy fun, “F9” will be your cup of tea.
Just don’t eat all of the crumpets!