All gassed up and ready to blow

Less may be more, but much more is much, much more – and no stunt is too crazy for this barmy fran­chise, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

FAST & FU­RI­OUS 8 Di­rected by F Gary Gray. Star­ring Vin Diesel, Dwayne John­son, Char­l­ize Theron, Ja­son Statham, Michelle Ro­driguez, Kurt Rus­sell, He­len Mir­ren, Scott East­wood. 12A cert, gen re­lease, 135 min The Fast and Fu­ri­ous team must an­swer to God for not end­ing episode eight with a sub­ma­rine plough­ing its way down the Las Ve­gas strip. Yes, I know Ne­vada is in­land, but that would still be among the less im­prob­a­ble events in this lu­di­crous, un­de­ni­ably di­vert­ing mech­a­nism for loos­en­ing yuán and baht from non-An­glo­phone cin­ema­go­ers.

How did we get here? Let me bark out ex­po­si­tion while driv­ing a Lam­borgh­ini Ab­surda across a lake of fire. Fif­teen years ago, Rob Co­hen di­rected a very nifty, mod­estly bud­geted drag rac­ing film called The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous. The se­quels got steadily more bor­ing un­til, around episode five, the crew re­alised that, whereas less may be more, much more is much, much more.

The trick was to com­bine the nar­ra­tive logic of day­time soap opera with the physics of Road Run­ner. Char­ac­ters die in one film and re­turn spright­lier than ever in the next. Within the course of a sin­gle episode (this one, for ex­am­ple), Do­minic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Deckard Shaw VC (Ja­son Statham) can go from be­ing the most deadly en­e­mies to the most in­sep­a­ra­ble of friends.

No stunt is too crazy or ex­trav­a­gant for this barmy fran­chise. Episode Eight’s cen­tre­piece sees evil Charize Theron send a mass of re­mote con­trolled cars about the streets of Man­hat­tan. It’s com­pletely stupid. It’s com­pletely awe­some. The last Fast and Fu­ri­ous film is the sixth high­est gross­ing film of all time.

The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous (its ti­tle in the US alone, oddly) be­gins with a re­minder of the se­ries’ roots. Do­minic and Letty (Michelle Ro­druigez), now his wife, find them­selves ar­gu­ing with some hood on the streets of Ha­vana. He says his Ford Koala can go faster than some other guy’s Dodge Pu­denda.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what’s un­der the hood. It mat­ters who’s be­hind the wheel,” Do­minic ex­plains. Be­fore you can say “pre-ti­tle se­quence”, our hero is push­ing the ap­par­ently in­fe­rior car to the point of im­mo­la­tion in a race that, by this fran­chise’s stan­dards, plays like an in­ti­mate aside.

The calm does not last. An evil lady called Cipher (Theron) is in Cuba to lure Dom to the dark side. “Ev­ery­one is afraid of the hacker group Anonymous,” some­body ex­plains painfully. “But even Anonymous won’t mess with her.” At first Toretto shrugs Cipher off. But, a lit­tle later, he switches to her side in dra­matic fash­ion. New­com­ers will scratch their heads. Fast and Fu­ri­ous veter­ans have come to ex­pect such ap­par­ent re­ver­sals. He’ll be all right in a mo­ment.

The enor­mous col­lec­tion of bald men who drive the cars – Statham, Diesel, Dwayne John­son, Tyrese Gib­son, oth­ers – know just how se­ri­ously to take the in­di­gestible dia­logue. Michelle Ro­driguez is bet­ter still at the grunts and gri­maces. Oddly, the two Os­car win­ners fare less well. Theron tries too hard to in­vest the lines with sin­cer­ity and ends up sound­ing like a de­cent big sis­ter fail­ing to grasp the point of her younger sib­lings’ dumb sand­pit game.

In con­trast, He­len Mir­ren is ab­surdly height­ened as an East End moll who in­sists on fin­ish­ing her “cuppa” be­fore chew­ing fat with the des­per­ate Toretto. The part might have made sense as a Bat­man vil­lain dur­ing the Adam West era. But it’s too silly for Fast and Fu­ri­ous (yes, you read that right).

The se­ries’ cen­tral premise does oc­ca­sion­ally creak un­der the de­mands of the po­ten­tially apoc­a­lyp­tic plot. In the later stages, the team is re­quired to storm a sub­ma­rine base in an ice­bound cor­ner of Siberia. Surely there are bet­ter ways of ap­proach­ing such a chal­lenge than climb­ing into a se­ries of ex­otic sports cars. Might a he­li­copter not make more sense?

Else­where, the film­mak­ers ex­ploit the de­ranged aes­thetic to de­li­cious ef­fect. Keep eyes open for the mo­ment when Do­minic’s car is re­strained on ca­bles like the poor horse in The Mis­fits. This is just about the only point of com­par­i­son with the writ­ing of Arthur Miller.

En­joy. There will be many more to come.

Very odd cou­ple Vin Diesel and He­len Mir­ren in Fast and Fu­ri­ous 8

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