Fast X: 2 1/2 stars out of 4

“Fast X” might be the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen, but when it comes to the Fast and Furious franchise, that may be beside the point. The tenth installment of this joyously bizarre saga suffers from all of the maladies that have plagued its recent releases, and is getting dangerously close to “Sharknado” levels of self-conscious parody, but by keeping the audience in on the joke, “Fast X” just barely keeps from spinning out.

Thanks to a comically overloaded cast (have you seen the promo banners?), “Fast X” is a mess of plot threads, but it boils down to a revenge story. The son of a past nemesis has come to avenge his father’s death and destroy Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his ever-expanding “family” of co-stars.

The son is Dante (Jason Momoa), a flamboyant Brazilian crime lord with a taste for performance and baggy pants. Ten years ago, his father (Joaquim de Almeida) made the mistake of crossing Torretto and company in the fifth and best installment of the franchise, and a quick opening flashback sequence connects the dots to Dante as the new movie opens.

Dante’s master plan is incomprehensible, and really just an excuse to create a series of adventures and scenarios that will put just about every major character you’ve encountered in the previous nine films into some kind of action-packed peril. The primary threads include Roman (Tyrese Gibson) leading a team on a mission that turns out to be a set-up, Dominic’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) being forced into an uncomfortable alliance with ex-nemesis Cipher (Charlize Theron) in an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” arrangement, and Dominic’s formerly estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) taking Dominic’s son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) into his protection as they mount a counter-operation of their own.

Meanwhile Dominic is hop-scotching all around the world—somehow bringing his signature 1970 Dodge Charger with him—in an international-scale chess match with Dante that ties in even more supporting characters played by Brie Larson, Alan Ritchson, and Daniela Melchior. By the end of the film, “Fast X” takes us to Rome, Portugal, Los Angeles, London, and at least one location that I’ll keep secret for the sake of a joke reveal.

Again, keeping track of all this is pretty much beyond the point. The objective of each new Fast and Furious film is to overwhelm the viewer with wall-to-wall action and at least one street race to keep the film tied to its distant roots, and it has generally been a winning formula. It also helps that unlike with the Michael Bay-era Transformers movies, you get the sense that the audience is in on the joke, and not being served up a cynical parade of explosions, babes, and terrible dialogue. At one point Alan Ritchson’s character offers the audience a Fast and Furious primer, describing their exploits as a, “cult with cars,” violating the laws of “God and gravity.”

But the truth is that ever since the seventh installment, which tied off the series’ core bromance after lead actor Paul Walker passed away during filming, the subsequent films have suffered from diminishing returns. The “can you top this” ethos has resulted in more and more ludicrous action set pieces, including hilarious death-defying Toretto escape sequences, plus preposterous scenarios that have included nuclear submarines and putting a Pontiac Fiero in orbit around the Earth in the last two movies. For “Fast X” it’s a massive bomb rolling hamster wheel style through the streets of Rome and a scene at a dam that you have to see to not believe. Combined with the film’s refusal to let any character besides Walker’s stay dead, “Fast X” suffers from some very common 21st century style cast bloat that makes its story unmanageable while gutting any real element of suspense or gravitas.

All of this is to say that “Fast X” has plenty of moments that will leave you amazed and often laughing, but we’re getting dangerously close to just laughing at the movie rather than laughing with it. And the cliff-hanger/twist ending—which reveals that “Fast X” is just the first of what is reportedly a final, series-ending trilogy—just cements that sentiment.

The best part of the new movie by far is Momoa, who seems to be having a joyous time in a wardrobe that deserves its own award. A better version of “Fast X” would have stripped away about a third of its 139-minute run time to focus on the Toretto vs. Dante duel, but unfortunately director Louis Leterrier and Diesel, who is also one of the film’s producers, seem more interested in checking franchise boxes than making a “good” movie.

The excesses of this franchise have usually been fun, but they’re starting to feel exhausting. And we’ve got two more movies to go.

“Fast X” is rated PG-13 for over-the-top action movie mayhem, bloodless violence, profanity, and music video-style images of scantily clad women.

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