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Posts Tagged ‘Fast & Furious’

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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It may well come as a surprise to you to learn this, but someone once took exception to my general principle of referring to the Dungeons & Dragons-loving actor known to his parents by the name of Mark Sinclair as ‘the great Vin Diesel’. Vin Diesel is simply not that great, ran the argument. He is a man of limited range. When he is not doing a Fast & Furious movie or playing Riddick, the chances of you wanting to see what he’s been up to are frankly quite small.

And I suppose there is a case to be answered here. But, as I’ve often said, the Fast & Furious movies are generally pretty entertaining ones that you have a good time watching, and this is surely reflected in the massive success of the last few episodes. And if you should doubt the importance of Vin Diesel to the whole undertaking, all you need to do is watch the only one he makes no appearance whatsoever in, John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, from 2003.

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With Diesel off making xXx at the time (possibly not a great career move, Vin), the only major character from the original to make an appearance is Brian O’Conner, played as usual by Paul Walker. O’Conner has left his former career as an undercover cop and is now making a living as a professional street-racer in Miami. Unfortunately his past catches up with him when he is nabbed by the local cops.

Brian is presented with an ultimatum: go undercover working as a driver for local drugs kingpin Verone (Cole Hauser), or go to jail. He agrees, but only on the condition that he can have his old friend Roman (Tyrese Gibson), another boy racer, as his partner on the job. The authorities inevitably agree, and…

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve watched 2 Fast 2 Furious three times, I think, including twice in the last ten days or so. And yet if you asked me what the plot of the film is about, or indeed what happens in the course of the story, I would find myself somewhat stuck. There’s a bit where a car gets crushed by an oil tanker, and a ridiculous CGI bridge jumping stunt, and Eva Mendes in a succession of tight tops (just for a change), and a bit where a guy has a rat trying to burrow into his stomach, and a big chase at the end with some ejector seats and someone crashing a car into the top deck of a yacht. Ludacris, not yet the Q-like techno-wizard his character later becomes, shows up in a couple of frankly startling hairstyles. But it’s almost as if your brain rejects the plot of the movie and refuses to give it headspace.

Or it could be that the film is just a tottering stack of action and racing movie clichés assembled with an eye to slickness and general aestheticism. None of the characters are in any danger of achieving a second dimension, let alone a third. The whole thing is just vapid and feels pointless – there’s never any sense of anything being at stake, the film is just about floating a series of pretty pictures past the viewer.

The most recent time I watched the movie it was in a vain attempt to try and dig into it and find something worth discussing about it – some subtext, intentional or not, some comment on society or the time in which it was made. Somehow I ended up watching it with the director’s commentary switched on, and in the end I decided to go with that as it seemed likely to offer a few insights.

Hmmm. Well, John Singleton earned his place in the history books as the youngest person ever to get Oscar nominated as Best Director (at the age of 23, in case you were wondering). Sadly this seems to have been a classic case of someone peaking too soon, as his work since then has been increasingly undistinguished. The odd thing is that his is the opposite case to that of a successful genre director who tries his hand at making a serious statement and promptly comes a cropper: Singleton started off making socially-conscious dramas about urban life in America, which were generally fairly well-reviewed, only to later switch to making populist fodder which has generally stunk out the theatres it has (briefly) appeared in. However, the commentary on 2 Fast 2 Furious reveals that a startling amount of considered thought seems to have gone into the making of this very generic, rather dumb movie: doubly startling given that Singleton himself declares the film to be all about ‘fast cars and sexy girls’. (Said commentary also regularly features Singleton describing in some detail what’s happening on the screen. This confusion of the ‘director’s commentary’ and ‘audio described for the visually impaired’ functions is generally a sign of a film-maker struggling to find things to say.)

It’s true, the movie is filled with this sort of thing – in places it has an almost cartoony look to it, the result of a Japanese anime influence (it would be nice to think this was a conscious foreshadowing of Tokyo Drift, but I really, really doubt it) – but, as I said, there is nothing underpinning it, at least nothing that Singleton can persuade you to care about.

In fact all you really take away from watching this film is a deeper understanding of Tyrese Gibson’s place in the group dynamic of the other F&F films: here, he’s definitely playing the hero’s sidekick. But in the other movies, the guy who’s the hero here is actually the sidekick. Which means that Gibson has been stuck playing the sidekick’s sidekick for the past three films, which may explain the look of thinly-veiled desperation I’m sure I’ve spotted in his eyes now and then. Maybe he will be able to move up the pecking order a bit in future outings.

What else do I need to say? It’s the one genuinely bad Fast & Furious movie. It really has nothing to commend it beyond the fact it introduces Tej and Roman. It’s one for completists only. We’ve all already wasted too much time discussing it. Let’s move on.

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So, I was in the pub the other afternoon, catching up with a friend: a woman of impressive wit and intelligence, no small measure of physical beauty, and (regrettably) impeccable taste when it comes to romantic entanglements.

‘Have you seen any really crap films recently?’ she asked, fully aware, like most who know me well, that when not working or actually asleep I spend most of my time in front of a screen of some description.

I had to think about that for a bit, and realised I had actually been enjoying a pretty decent run so far this year: a few disappointments, but nothing actually traumatically bad. ‘But,’ I added, ‘I am going to see Fast & Furious 6 tomorrow.’ I filled her in on what I gathered to be the general tone, plot, and content of the film.

‘Good God that sounds awful,’ she said, and then added (knowing me rather too well, come to think of it), ‘it sounds like the kind of film Jason Statham would be in.’

I think I’ve mentioned already that Cocktail is her favourite film. Hey ho. Well, for the purposes of answering her question, I have to say that I can’t honestly describe Fast & Furious 6 (directed, like number 5, by Justin Lin) as a really crap film. I am aware that in doing so I may be using a different qualitative scale to the one traditionally employed on the planet Earth, but so be it.

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Gravelly-voiced boy racer/criminal mastermind Dominic Toretto (the great Vin Diesel), together with his extended family of morally-flexible motorheads, has relocated to the Canary Islands to live off his ill-gotten gains. The film opens with a classic Dumb Movie Bit where Diesel and his rather drab sidekick (Paul Walker) have some dialogue stressing that they have Moved On With Their Lives and the days of constant hazard and adventure are Well And Truly Over. You know this scene has only been included because they are going to go back to their lives of constant hazard and adventure about four minutes later.

And so it proves, as slightly ridiculous colossus of justice Hobbs (The Rock (Dwayne Johnson)), acting on information battered out of a suspect in Moscow, recruits Diesel to help him catch criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who used to be in the boy racer division of the SAS. The carrot to get Diesel on board is the presence on Shaw’s team of his old flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who everyone thought was dead and is, in any case, suffering from Movie Amnesia.

(Oh, the divine and fragrant Michelle Rodriguez, back on the big screen! How long has it been, ‘Chelle? Do you remember the days when you first came into my life? Films like Resident Evil, Blue Crush and S.W.A.T.? I guess a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then for us both, and there are other special people who I have to think about now – Rose Byrne, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Steph who does the business news on breakfast TV, to name but three. Anyway…)

Diesel bites (obviously) and convenes the Fast & Furious All-Stars in London to commence operations against Shaw and his gang. Jordana Brewster has a considerably reduced role this time round, as her character is technically on maternity leave, but stepping in to replace her is the statuesquely lovely Gina Carano of Haywire fame. I’ve been dying to see Carano in another movie, and while this one obviously wouldn’t have the intelligence or restraint of one from the Soderbergh collective, it was still shaping up to be something a bit different…

And so it proves. Very elderly readers may recall the original The Fast and the Furious starring Diesel, which came out in 2001 and was a fairly gritty (if slightly glitzy) thriller about the illegal street racing scene and the subversive glamour of a life of crime. Fast & Furious 6, on the other hand, is… well, look, it’s got to the point where they sit around thinking up stunt sequences and then write the script around them (apparently the climax of this film is a stunt they’ve been trying to think of a way to include since number 4).

It basically goes a little something like this: Vroom vroom. Discussion about FAMILY. Exposition. Exposition. Comic relief. Fistfight. Comic relief. Vroom vroom. Exposition. Discussion of differential tranmissions. FAMILY. Comic relief. Comic relief. FAMILY. Vroom vroom. Explosion. Fist fight. Comic relief. Exposition. FAMILY. Vroom vroom.

And so on. As you may have noticed, the big theme that is impressed upon the small section of the audience’s brains not pummelled into submission by the sound and fury on the screen concerns FAMILY, which is what Diesel and his gang of criminals have apparently decided that they are. This sort of vein of cheesy sentiment inserted into an otherwise relentless cavalcade of violence, misogyny, off-colour humour and general amorality put me rather in mind of the later Lethal Weapon movies, but this is a much bigger and brasher movie than any of those.

It is, on most levels, completely ridiculous, of course: it’s very hard to describe this film, with its dubious premise, ludicrous stunts, arbitrary plot reversals, and general lack of any sense of reality, without using the words ‘utterly stupid’ – there is, for example, a sequence concerned with the apparently-thriving street-racing scene in central London, a city noted for being extremely welcoming to those wishing to drive around it at speed. (I just hope Vin and the rest remembered to pay the Congestion Charge.) And yet, and yet… it is still somehow rather winningly contrived. It looks gorgeous, bits of it are genuinely funny (though I could have done without the scenes where the Rock metaphorically smacks down various uppity Brits), everyone gets something interesting and occasionally involving to do, and the big stunt sequences have a sort of carefree abandonment about them which is rather beguiling – there’s an operatically destructive set-piece involving a couple of landrovers, half a dozen cars, two motorbikes, a truck and a tank, and this isn’t even the climax. Plus, we get not one but two knock-down-drag-out bouts of fisticuffs between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano, which were surely the most, er, thrilling thing I’ve seen on the big screen in ages. (There’s a bit where Michelle starts biting Gina’s thigh, and… and… I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me a moment.)

 

 

 

What else can I say about Fast & Furious 6? It is a highly polished, precision-built, beautiful-to-look-at machine of such vaulting absurdity it almost beggars the imagination. I really shouldn’t have enjoyed it, even ironically, and yet the fact remains that I did. In terms of big, dumb, silly, fun action movies, Fast & Furious 6 sets the standard: this is the film The Expendables wishes it could be.

And … spoiler ahoy! … this is before we even come to the post-credits sequence, in which the brother of the villain sets out upon a rollicking rampage of revenge against Vin and the others. Suffice to say that when he appears, he has a baldy head, a variable accent, and a notable history of vehicular mayhem of his own: my alluring friend would not have been in the least surprised to see him. This and the previous Fast & Furious both turned out to be unreasonably good entertainment: but the next one promises to be something truly epochal. I cannot imagine any power on Earth keeping me from seeing it.

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In my experience, by the time a film series reaches its fifth instalment, one of two things is usually the case: either the dead horse has been flogged to the bone and the whole enterprise is on the verge of dying on its arse and/or going straight-to-video (for example: Rocky V, Hellraiser: Inferno), or it’s entrenched itself as part of the cinematic landscape and shows every sign of carrying on for the long haul (You Only Live Twice, Carry On Regardless). My preconceptions on this score were shaken this week, after viewing Justin Lin’s…

…um, er. If we’re going to be pedantic, I think there’s a little confusion over what this film is called. The film certificate lists the title as Fast Five. The poster, on the other hand, goes for the rather less concise Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist. I don’t recall there being an actual title card of any kind, though I may still have been acclimatising to the film when it flashed by. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, as everyone knows what this film is all about: big growly men driving cars with big growly engines, very quickly and not in the best of moods.

Now I haven’t sat down and properly watched any of the previous four F&F films – not intentionally, I admit. I caught the second one on TV in Japan and was not much impressed, and saw the third one in Russian on Kyrgyz TV and was even less struck. However, great pains are taken to make this outing newbie-friendly while still appealing to the existing fanbase.

Big growly bald criminal mastermind-stroke-boy racer Dominic Toretto (the great Vin Diesel) starts the movie en route to the chokey but is almost at once busted out by ex-cop-turned sidekick Brian (Paul Walker) and his sister (Jordana Brewster). The three of them tootle off down to Brazil intent on keeping a low profile. Unfortunately Vin’s idea of a low profile includes driving cars off the side of a moving train and crashing them into the nearest river canyon, and very soon they are being chased by both Rio’s top drug dealer and the US government. Just to make things interesting the top lawman on their tail is slightly absurd colossus of justice Luke Hobbs, who’s played by the Rock, who’s played by Dwayne Johnson. Of course.

Vin and Walker decide to do one last big job before retiring for good, stealing the entire fortune of the aforementioned drug dealer. To do this they recruit a crack team of characters from previous films in the series. The F&F all-stars include Sung Kang from the previous two pictures, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, last seen in the first sequel, and Gal Gadot who was only in number four. Not that any of this matters: it’s just the set-up for some very silly and thoroughly enjoyable Ocean’s Eleven-inflected caper shenanigans. Or, if you prefer, another remake of The Italian Job where everyone’s been working out a lot. Everyone on the team gets at least one moment to shine, which is rather nice: as I said, every effort seems to have been made to produce a film that will appeal equally to long-term fans and complete newcomers to the series.

I confess I turned up to this movie prepared to scoff and mock it relentlessly, but – halfway through the first major stunt sequence – I found myself actually really enjoying it. It’s not deep, or thoughtful, and it has no pretensions whatsoever – but it is a tremendously well-assembled piece of machinery, for the most part. The script does fall down fairly badly in a couple of places, but usually redeems itself very quickly. Even when it’s absurd, it’s enjoyably so.

The money sequence in this movie comes when Vin Diesel and the Rock engage in a spot of fisticuffs. Wisely, the producers keep it back until the third act, although the two of them do face off earlier on – there’s even a bit where the two of them have a go at parkour, which looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Eventually, though, it can be delayed no longer, and the two big bald growly men face off.

‘Rrr hrrr rrr grr rrr rrr,’ says Vin, profoundly. ‘Uh gruh gur huh ruh gruh,’ the Rock ripostes, and then, rather in the manner of two continental plates colliding, battle commences. This isn’t quite the epochal moment it might have been eight or nine years ago – and the very fact both men are in this movie is an indication of how their careers haven’t gone quite as well as everyone was predicting – but I can’t imagine anyone will be too disappointed by the sight of the Rock trying to ram Diesel’s head through the bonnet of his car, or Diesel hurling the Rock bodily through a window. (Miraculously, neither winner nor loser emerges with more than the faintest of scrapes upon their face.)

(The Rock’s presence also brings with it the fringe benefit that in comparison Diesel looks like a marginally more nuanced performer than usual, but nobody in this movie is really here to do anything more than look good in shades and work a steering wheel in a photogenic fashion.)

With the battle of the big guys out of the way the film does seem to lose focus a little and the climax and resolution seem rather uninspired and over-prolonged, respectively: but not quite enough to seriously spoil the movie.

As I say, this is purely a popcorn movie, but it is a rather good one, and shows no signs of being the last gasp of a moribund franchise. The makers seem to agree, as the conclusion to this sets up yet another outing, which strongly hints at the return of – be still, my beating heart – Michelle Rodriguez. I will certainly be going back to see that one – but, on the strength of this movie, I think I would have done so no matter who was in it. A reliable and extremely competent piece of entertainment.

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