The Fate of the Furious Is a Little Below the Speed Limit

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Full disclosure: I have never seen a movie from The Fast and the Furious franchise.

And that’s surprising. I grew up on Vanishing Point and Smokey and the Bandit, loved The Transporter and Ronin, and I’ve seen Drive Angry about a dozen times and will likely see it two dozen more. So, with No. 8 in the series hitting theaters April 14, this seemed like a good time to rectify that oversight.

The family in The Fate of the Furious is Vin Diesel—the father figure of the furious—and girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez), his two other street racer buddies (Ludacris and Tyrese), a hacker chick and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The bad guys are led by Charlize Theron and are basically a roster of obnoxious hairdos: Manbun! White-girl dreads! Bleached emo bangs! What a bunch of assholes! And Jason Statham is in there somewhere. But, more importantly than any of those folks, we have a a Dodge Challenger, a Rally Fighter, a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a tank and a nuclear submarine, plus many, many, many more.

I gotta ask, though: Are all Fast and the Furious flicks so slow? At over two hours, The Fate of the Furious had more padding than the ass of a drag queen doing a J-Lo number. And not shiny automotive padding. Nope. Watch Diesel emote. Watch Rodriguez sigh moodily over Diesel. Watch The Rock be cute with little girls. Watch Theron make boilerplate super villain speeches—we don’t know who she is or where she came from or what she wants at the beginning of the film … or at the end. Theron can exude genuine menace, as demonstrated in Monster, Snow White and the Huntsman and Mad Max: Fury Road. Here, she’s just whispering ominous platitudes while wearing one of those $250 Metallica T-shirts from Barney’s.

But fuck all that story and character nonsense, you say, let’s get to the cars. To which I say: If I had to sit through the glycerine tears of Vin Diesel to get to the cars, so do you. And there are many, many beautiful cars that are crashed into walls and driven out of windows and sunk below ice. At one point, hundreds of vehicles are just smashed into each other on the streets of New York City. Why does this movie hate cars so much? There is a colorful opening in Cuba (a land of mandatory hot pants and 2 percent body fat), racing souped-up vintage autos and a big closer with all modes of transport plus bombs hurtling across an iced-over sea. Other than that, it’s pretty much a demolition derby. I guess I’m a person who prefers car chases.

The Fate of the Furious does have other high points. Statham, thankfully, doesn’t spend a lot of time driving and instead does what he does best: Tear through 20 bad guys with fists and feet in spectacular set pieces. Tyrese gets in some good lines, and Kurt Russell gets even more as a grinning government operative, Mr. Nobody. Statham and The Rock swing fists and swap insults with infectious enthusiasm. And stealing the whole big, noisy show is Helen Mirren as Statham’s badass Cockney mum— “You’ve got until I finish my tea and I’m fucking thirsty.” After The Fate of the Furious, I still don’t feel the imperative to check out volumes 1 through 7. But, if they’ll promise more adventures of the Statham/Mirren family, I will totally be there for No. 9.