For a re­viewof “The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous,”

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The films that make up the “Fast and the Fu­ri­ous” fran- chise — in­ex­pli­ca­bly on its eighth in­stall­ment — are re­view-proof. There is likely no Rot­ten Toma­toes score that could af­fect the box of­fice take. But more than that, the often silly, al­ways out­ra­geous, com­fort­ably for­mu­laic films about fast cars and cho­sen fam­ily have a charm that man­ages to per­me­ate the crusty ex­te­rior of even the most cur­mud­geonly of crit­ics. Most of us got into this gig be­cause movies are fun, and the “Fast/ Fu­ri­ous” movies are some of the most fun of all.

F. Gary Gray takes his turn be­hind the wheel di­rect­ing “The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous,” but di­rec­tors come and go. It’s the ap­pro­pri­ately named star, Vin Diesel, who al­ways re­mains the same. Diesel plays Do­minic Toretto, who has risen from the Los An­ge­les out­law street racing scene to a sort of ca­reer as a free­lance in­ter­na­tional driver spe­cial­iz­ing in the ex­trac­tion, trans­porta­tion and re­moval of highly sen­si­tive ma­te­rial. He’s al­ways be­ing pulled out of an idyl­lic re­tire­ment to do one last job, be­cause, of course, he drives real good.

In the “Fu­ri­ous” fran­chise, Diesel is never the most in­ter­est­ing per­son on screen, but as a pro­ducer, he has a tal­ent for as­sem­blage, sur­round­ing him­self with some of our most charis­matic per­form­ers. Diesel brings out the best in tough girl Michelle Ro­driguez, and found an easy groove with the late Paul Walker. Who knew Tyrese Gib­son and Lu­dacris had such great comic en­ergy be­fore they joined Dom’s crew? He’s col­lected Dwayne John­son, Ja­son Statham and even Snake Plissken him­self (Kurt Rus­sell) along the way, and in “Fate,” he taps no less then two best ac­tress Os­car win­ners in Char­l­ize Theron and (no joke) He­len Mir­ren to come along for the ride.

At first it seems as if Gray might be ground­ing things in a more re­al­is­tic world, only be­cause he doesn’t open on sky-div­ing cars, but rather, on an al­most quaint street race in Ha­vana fea­tur­ing cars from the 1950s. It’s a throw­back to the good old days, the essence of what made Dom who he is. But that as­sump­tion of a grounded re­al­ism turns out to be ex­tremely wrong. The last act in­volves a high-speed chase across a frozen sea, fea­tur­ing snow­mo­biles, a tank, a neon orange Lam­borgh­ini and a nu­clear sub­ma­rine, among other things.

Gray doesn’t shy away from some se­ri­ously dark ma­te­rial and mo­ments, though that’s bal­anced by the light-hearted ban­ter that crack­les between John­son and Statham, Gib­son and Lu­dacris, and ev­ery­one razz­ing rookie agent Lit­tle No­body (Scott East­wood). Tonally, it’s a bit all over the map, but it doesn’t de­tract from the fun. There are a few cringe­wor­thy mo­ments watch­ing Diesel act across from Theron, as an un­blink­ing, blond-dreaded hacker, and Mir­ren, who de­lights in her role as a tough Cock­ney mum. But Diesel has al­ways been a good sport about let­ting oth­ers steal the show.

“Fate of the Fu­ri­ous” doesn’t achieve any­thing new for the fran­chise, and even seems to down­shift a bit. Gray fails to reach some of the rather oper­atic heights and flights of ve­hic­u­lar fan­tasy that di­rec­tors like Justin Lin and James Wan pulled off. But there are a few ex­cep­tional action se­quences, some laughs, and a bar­be­cue at the end with a toast to fam­ily, so in the end, “Fate” does man­age to de­liver the “Fu­ri­ous” goods.

“The Fate Of The Fu­ri­ous,” a Univer­sal Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG-13 for pro­longed se­quences of vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion, sug­ges­tive con­tent and lan­guage.

Run­ning time: 136 min­utes. ½

“A Quiet Pas­sion”

Ter­ence Davies’ Emily Dick­in­son biopic “A Quiet Pas­sion” burns with an er­ratic in­ten­sity, like a flick­er­ing can­dle flame. At once im­pas­sioned and stoic, the film doesn’t so much de­pict the events of Dick­in­son’s life as it sketches the ma­jor themes of it — gen­der, re­bel­lion, re­li­gion, fam­ily. As por­trayed by Emma Bell and Cyn­thia Nixon, Dick­in­son is head­strong, im­pu­dent and sim­ply in­ca­pable of bit­ing her tongue. It’s a re­mark­able por­trait of the artist in terms of per­for­mance, but the sur­round­ing film is un­even, more aca­dem­i­cally an­a­lyt­i­cal than emo­tion­ally im­mer­sive.

Davies, who wrote and di­rected “A Quiet Pas­sion,” chooses key, if dis­jointed, mo­ments from Dick­in­son’s life to hang the nar­ra­tive around. We start with her dis­missal from a wo­man’s col­lege for her reli­gious re­bel­lion, a re­fusal to con­form to the school’s idea of a re­la­tion­ship with God, choos­ing in­stead to ex­press her own be­liefs and val­ues. She’s far from a non­be­liever — in fact, her deeply felt and per­son­ally in­ter­ro­gated be­liefs are what in­spire her will­ing­ness to talk back to pas­tors and cler­gy­men.

Davies uses sig­nif­i­cant vi­gnettes and in­ter­ac­tions to il­lus­trate Dick­in­son’s sin­gu­lar val­ues and world­view about ro­mance, re­la­tion­ships, poetry and gen­der — be­ing fe­male is akin to “slav­ery” she snaps at her brother Austin (Dun­can Duff) in her inim­itably un­fil­tered way. She’s not im­mune to the silly plea­sures of courtship, which she ob­serves from the side­lines, tit­ter­ing with her sis­ter, Vin­nie (Jen­nifer Ehle). But her rosy en­joy­ment of such fri­vol­ity slowly turns brit­tle, cracks and crum­bles away over time. Her friend, the equally witty and re­bel­lious Vryling Buf­fam (Cather­ine Bai­ley), even­tu­ally gives in to the so­cial pres­sures and mar­ries, leav­ing Emily alone on her spin­ster is­land, and she shuts her­self away, writ­ing her po­ems.

There’s an odd sense of ar­ti­fice to “A Quiet Pas­sion” that keeps the viewer at an arm’s length. We can never quite dive into this world and be­come swept away in the pe­riod cos­tumes and rit­u­als when the line read­ings are de­liv­ered so the­atri­cally, the tableaux so de­lib­er­ately staged. The film­mak­ing demon­strates a con­sid­er­able amount of crafts­man­ship in pro­duc­tion de­sign, cin­e­matog­ra­phy, writ­ing and per­for­mance, but it is as stiff and stilted as a starched col­lar, as con­strain­ing as a tightly laced corset. De­spite beauty in com­po­si­tion, it never soft­ens to let you in, so it feels like ob­serv­ing from the side­lines, con­sid­er­ing the events in­tel­lec­tu­ally but never emo­tion­ally.

There’s a stu­dious sense of un­ease through­out “A Quiet Pas­sion,” as Davies lingers on the un­com­fort­able mo­ments of Dick­in­son’s life — hor­rific con­vul­sions from a bru­tal kid­ney dis­ease or ugly spats with her par­ents and siblings. Nixon is noth­ing if not fully com­mit­ted to in­hab­it­ing the role of this ex­tra­or­di­nary and tor­mented wo­man, but there’s no eas­i­ness to her per­for­mance and the film­mak­ing around her. Both are forced and la­bo­ri­ous, which makes Ehle’s won­der­fully nat­u­ral­is­tic per­for­mance as Vin­nie stand out, throw­ing ev­ery­one else’s stiff­ness into stark re­lief. Ul­ti­mately, break­ing through the hard outer shell of ar­ti­fice that en­cases “A Quiet Pas­sion” ends up quite a chore, and a bore to boot.

“A Quiet Pas­sion,” a Music Box Films re­lease, is rated PG-13 for the­matic el­e­ments, dis­turb­ing im­ages and brief sug­ges­tive ma­te­rial. Run­ning time: 125 min­utes. 

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Cyn­thia Nixon, left, and Jen­nifer Eh­lie star in Ter­ence Davies’ Emily Dick­in­son biopic “A Quiet Pas­sion.”

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