Hobbs & Shaw a fun, but un­even ride

The Prince George Citizen - - News/A&E - Jake COYLE

NEW YORK — Add an “e” and Hobbs & Shaw might have been a time-trav­el­ling thriller about play­wright George Bernard Shaw and 17th cen­tury philoso­pher Thomas Hobbes.

Tan­taliz­ing as such a pair­ing may have been to the mak­ers of Fast & Fu­ri­ous, they have in­stead opted to, in the franchise’s first spinoff, com­bine two of the series’ sup­port­ing stand­outs, Dwayne John­son’s U.S. gov­ern­ment agent Luke Hobbs and Ja­son Statham’s for­mer Bri­tish agent Deckard Shaw, for an­other bal­let of Buicks and bul­lets.

Prob­a­bly a wise choice.

It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the writer of Pyg­malion ca­reen­ing down the side of a sky­scraper in hot pur­suit of Idris Elba.

And when it comes to high-oc­tane ac­tion spectacles, few are bet­ter suited to the task than The Rock and Statham, who both make up with brawn and charisma what they lack in hair.

In the Fast & Fu­ri­ous franchise, which now num­bers eight films and more than $5 bil­lion in box of­fice, they’ve found a com­fort­able home – aside any headaches for John­son caused by co-star Vin Diesel.

That fric­tion be­tween John­son and Diesel was re­port­edly part of the ben­e­fit of this pit stop, with­out the whole gang, in be­tween con­tin­u­ing Fast & Fu­ri­ous ad­ven­tures.

But those off-cam­era tiffs are also per­fect for the speedy but soapy Fast & Fu­ri­ous world, where fam­ily squab­bles and ques­tions of loy­alty play out in be­tween death-de­fy­ing au­to­mo­tive stunts.

If Fast & Fu­ri­ous Presents: Hobbs & Shaw has a hard road to travel, it’s be­cause the franchise has con­sis­tently ratch­eted up its stunt game.

One of the real plea­sures of the last decade’s block­buster pa­rade has been to watch the Fast & Fu­ri­ous movies morph from a more sim­ple L.A. street-rac­ing tale into an in­creas­ingly ab­surd and over-thetop ac­tion ex­trav­a­ganza of mus­cle cars and mus­cle, where hot rods don’t just go fast but oc­ca­sion­ally leap be­tween build­ings and para­chute from the sky. Hobbs & Shaw seeks to an­swer that age-old ques­tion: What do you do for your next act af­ter you’ve blown up a sub­ma­rine with a Dodge?

Hobbs & Shaw has some nifty moves (in one scene, a Chevy flies a he­li­copter like a kite), but it’s slightly dis­ap­point­ing in terms of sheer ridicu­lous­ness. It earns some points for a cen­ter­piece showdown, seem­ingly de­signed for Chornobyl fans, set among re­ac­tors at a Rus­sian nu­clear power plant. But at this point, we ex­pect – no, de­mand – to see Lam­borgh­i­nis on the moon.

In­stead, the en­ter­tain­ment of Hobbs & Shaw, di­rected by stunt co-or­di­na­tor­turned-di­rec­tor David Leitch (Dead­pool 2, Atomic Blonde), rests more with its cast, in­clud­ing its two leads. But just as sig­nif­i­cant are two ma­jor new ad­di­tions: Elba’s vil­lain, a cy­borg mer­ce­nary named Brix­ton, and Shaw’s sis­ter Hat­tie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent whose theft of a su­per virus from Brix­ton sets the glo­be­trot­ting plot in motion.

Hobbs and Shaw are called in to the save the world, a job they are both ea­ger for. (Hobbs says, se­ri­ously, that he had been “track­ing some dark web chat­ter” on the virus.) But it’s a part­ner­ship they loath.

If Hobbs & Shaw lacks in mem­o­rable stunt work, it tries to make it up with bick­er­ing and put-downs be­tween the two, a shtick that vac­il­lates be­tween funny and tire­some. But it’s the kind of stuff John­son ex­cels at.

They also have re­in­force­ments. Elba’s char­ac­ter, who boasts dig­i­tal eyes and a self-driv­ing mo­tor­cy­cle, takes the franchise in a more sci-fi di­rec­tion that doesn’t fit the street-level na­ture of Fast & Fu­ri­ous. But Elba is never not an im­pos­ing pres­ence; the movie straight­ens up when­ever he’s in it.

With such ti­tans as Elba and John­son in the movie, it’s a won­der how smoothly and com­pletely Kirby stakes her claim, too.

In a movie full of the ex­pected, she’s the happy sur­prise and a breath of fresh air. In the miles be­tween The Crown and Hobbs & Shaw, Kirby has swiftly proven her­self ca­pa­ble of an ex­tra­or­di­nary range.

The chemistry be­tween the four, along with wel­come comic cameos from Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart, fuel Hobbs & Shaw more than its mostly fa­mil­iar ac­tion scenes and plot turns. It’s a herky-jerky ride, with ge­nial com­pany.

Usu­ally, it’s pleas­ingly aware of its own silli­ness. But there are blind spots.

The third act shifts to an old-school fight in Samoa and speeches about hav­ing “heart” that build on a man vs. ma­chine dy­namic set up by Elba’s part-ro­bot char­ac­ter.

But if ever there was a movie franchise that be­lieves, with op­er­atic fer­vour, in well-oiled ma­chines, it’s Fast & Fu­ri­ous.

— Two and a half stars out of four

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