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Posts Tagged ‘F Gary Gray’

There comes a point during F Gary Gray’s Fast and Furious 8, possibly when the great Vin Diesel is jumping his car over a nuclear submarine in order to rid himself of the heat-seeking missile which someone has inconsiderately launched at him, when it is entirely reasonable for a person to forget that things were not always thus with this franchise. The last four or five installments have been such utterly reliable, if slightly ridiculous, big-scale entertainment, that you might assume that this is really an in-name-only sequel to the moderately gritty and down-to-earth 2001 progenitor of the series.

This is about as good a hopping-on point for newcomers as any film in the series. As things get underway, man-mountain boy-racer and mastermind of good-hearted skulduggery Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying a postponed (since F&F4) honeymoon in Cuba. This involves Toretto launching burning cars into the harbour at supersonic speed, backwards, but romance is a personal thing, after all. Meanwhile, colossus of justice Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is enjoying a little down-time, until someone arrives to deliver some important exposition. Thus we get a scene where someone is trying to explain to Hobbs about a stolen doomsday weapon while he is distracted and trying to coach his daughter’s soccer team.

Well, Hobbs retains Toretto and the rest of the F&F All-Stars to help him get the doomsday widget back, not realising Toretto has fallen under the sway of evil cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who gets him to pinch the widget and zoom off with it, abandoning the rest of the All-Stars. But how is this possible? Given that Dom devotes most of his dialogue in these films to rumbling on about the importance of ‘fam-er-lee’, what could possibly make him sell out his nearest and dearest this way?

Anyway, Hobbs gets slung in the chokey for his part in the failed mission, and ends up in the next cell to Deckard (Mr Jason Statham), the villain of F&F7, conveniently enough. Energetic prison-riot shenanigans inevitably ensue. In the end, shady intelligence puppetmaster/plot device Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) gets the All-Stars, Hobbs, and Deckard together and tasks them with finding Toretto and Cipher before they can do anything too naughty with the stolen doomsday widget. Cue a succession of monumentally overblown car chases and fist-fights, a peculiar bromance between J-Stat and the Rock, some extremely broad humour, and more than a whiff of sentimentality as people bang on and on about ‘fam-er-lee’…

The key question about this one, I suppose, is whether or not you can make a viable and satisfying Fast and Furious movie without the late Paul Walker (or, for that matter, Jordana Brewster, who doesn’t appear either). The answer seems to be ‘yes’, but I get a sense of the film-makers being aware of the change in the essential dynamic of the series – this may be why Diesel is sent off into his own plotline away from the other characters for most of the movie, and Statham and Johnson inserted into the heart of the ensemble (although rumour has it that this may also be due to Diesel having had a bit of a tiff with certain of his co-stars and refusing to share any scenes with them). This is very successful, I would say, because these are two charismatic dudes who deserve a chance to do more than just sweat and either sit behind steering wheels or wallop stuntmen. The dividend extends further, with both Michelle Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson getting some of their best material in the history of the series. (Scott Eastwood turns up as a new character and also does surprisingly well.)

Even Charlize Theron does pretty well with a character who is, on paper, not much more than an, um, cipher, much given to slightly preposterous speeches about evolutionary psychology and so on (clearly she’s yet another person who’s just read Sapiens). Given the size of some of the performances elsewhere in the movie (and the size of some of the performers, come to that), it’s hard to make a big impression as the bad guy in Fast and Furious Land, but she has a good go, helped by the fact that Cipher steers the series into some properly dark territory – something genuinely shocking and serious befalls a regular character partway through this film, threatening to tilt it all over into the realms of bad taste.

The casual way in which the film recovers its absurd, freewheeling tone is just another sign of the genuine deftness and skill with which these films are made (although this one does seem to score a bit higher on the mindless slaughter scale than most of the others). I do get mocked for my sincere enthusiasm for this series, but it is simply supremely well-made entertainment, and if the combination of stunts, jokes, fighting, and sentimentality is a bit preposterous, so what? With the Bond movies seemingly locked in ‘glum’ mode for the duration, there’s a gap in the market for something so knowing and fun. At one point in this movie, Jason Statham launches himself into battle with a squad of goons, gun in one hand, baby-carrier in the other, and what follows is both a terrific action sequence and genuinely very funny, with all the craziness you’d hope for in one of Mr Statham’s own movies. I do hope they keep Deckard (and his own fam-er-lee) around for the next one.

If Fast and Furious 8 is silly or ridiculous (and it really is), I would suggest it is silly and ridiculous in an entirely intentional way. And underlying all this is a script that regular writer Chris Morgan genuinely seems to have thought about – he doesn’t quite do his usual chronology-fu, but nevertheless he’s locked onto the fact that ever since the first one, the best of these films have all been about the camaraderie and sense of belonging you get from being part of a gang, or a family, and this informs the plot of this one in a fundamental way – that’s the thread linking the new film to the original one. Silly is not the same as stupid.

So I suppose it’s possible to genuinely dislike Fast and Furious 8, in the same way it’s possible to dislike any movie – but that doesn’t make it any less successful in hitting the targets it has set for itself, or indeed any less entertaining for the rest of us. If every film were made with this degree of skill and attention to detail, then the world would be a happier place.

 

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 25th 2003:

‘Hold on a minute, chaps, I’ve thought of something!’ ‘This is the mutual appreciation society..,’ ‘You’re only supposed to blast the flipping roof off!’ Yes, one way and another the 1969 movie The Italian Job has unforgettably embedded itself into the cultural landscape, so it’s hardly surprising the Americans have gone and remade it – really, really loosely.

The new Italian Job, directed by F Gary Gray, kicks off with Marky Mark Wahlberg, who has great hair but very little screen presence, masterminding a bullion heist in Venice with the aid of his gang (who include Donald Sutherland, Seth Green from Buffy and Austin Powers, and that charismatically rotten actor Jason Statham). The scheme, involving dustbinmen, scuba gear, and exploding paint, goes according to plan until one weaselly gang-member (Edward Norton, phoning it in) tries to kill everyone else before running off with all the gold. One year later Marky Mark tracks Norton down to LA and comes up with a new scheme to steal the gold back, recruiting beautiful safecracker Charlize Theron to help out (a case of the bland leading the blonde). The initial plan, which involves sneaking up behind Norton with a sock full of sand, is put on hold when Mini manufacturer BMW offers a skipload of cash in exchange for some serious product placement…

For all that it’s become a much-loved favourite, I’ve always thought that the original Italian Job was a rather crass and jingoistic film which wouldn’t have been made had we not won the Cup in 1966. It’s a shameless bellow of ‘England is best!!!’, utterly contemptuous of every other nationality, and (I’d be prepared to bet) a firm favourite of many soccer hooligans. This is what the original film is about, it’s encoded into its’ DNA. So an American remake, mainly populated by Americans (okay, so there’s a Canadian, a South African and a Brit in there, but let’s not quibble), and set in America, seemed to me to be entirely missing the point.

Well, take this how you will, but there’s very little of the original Job left in the remake: only a couple of character names and, of course, a new version of the famous car chase with the minis. So comprehensive is the re-imagining that the elements of the original movie are the ones that seem peculiarly incongruous. Far better to look at this film on its own merits, which are not inconsiderable – it’s slick, it’s funny, there are some nice performances and the action is well-staged. Admittedly there are some slightly nauseating faux-paternal bonding moments between Sutherland and Marky Mark, but not enough to spoil things completely.

Having said that, Marky Mark really is terribly dull as the main character. This isn’t helped by the fact that a perfectly serviceable leading man for this kind of dumb caper movie is growling and mugging away at his shoulder for most of the movie: yes, it’s Jason Statham, folks. Attentive masochists will know how much I enjoyed The Transporter, Statham’s last vehicle (ho ho), and he’s on the same winning form here. Gallantly, he’s also persuaded the producers to give a tiny cameo to his fiancee, the equally talented Kelly Brook. That said, Seth Green is also extremely funny as the team’s computer geek – he and Statham should both be looking at serious career boosts on the strength of this.

Apart from Marky Mark’s charm shortfall, the film only really disappoints when it comes to the concluding car chase, which is a bit lacklustre compared to the original, and the ending, which inevitably can’t compete with 1969’s literal cliffhanger. But as I say, this is smart and funny and very entertaining in its’ own way. Strangely enough, though, the truth remains that the 1969 Italian Job, while not a particularly great film, is undeniably a classic, and the 2003 version, though not a particularly bad one, isn’t. Funny old world, innit?

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