Furious Family Values

Cars go into space, cars go boom, it’s all about family, again

A Fast and Furious film review is like having a frunk in your car: useful, I guess, but very extra and kind of beside the point. Think of this less as a critical evaluation and more as a descriptive primer. Because, let’s face it, we’re getting the latest installment in a planetary phenomenon so reductive that the title of the new movie is the franchise’s first letter and its sequel number.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

This year’s model is assembly-line perfection in duplication: thrillingly reckless car chases and wildly destructive vehicular stunts, with a few unique flourishes to make it technically distinguishable from its predecessors. In this case, F9 is the one with John Cena and supercharged electromagnets. And Cardi B as an Interpol agent. And a Pontiac Fiero pimped out with a jet engine and turned into a spaceship. How does that work, by the way? “It’s all just math and science,” explains Ludacris, wearing a makeshift astronaut outfit. How is that, exactly? “As long as we follow the laws of physics, we’ll be fine,” he elaborates, apparently attempting some sort of gearhead Jedi mind trick.

Michelle Rodriguez, as Letty, still alive in ‘F9’.

The Fast and Furious series clearly follows its own laws of physics, as well as thermodynamics, genealogy, and mortality. Not surprisingly for a franchise that already brought Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty back to life, F9 resurrects Sung Kung’s Han, casualty of third installment The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The Asian American actor is back presumably to goose box office in the increasingly turbo-charged Chinese market, where the film opened a month ago and already grossed more than $200 million.

Now Cena enters the fray as the heretofore unmentioned Jakob Toretto, Dom’s estranged but equally jacked brother. He’s also pretty purebred for such a POC relation. “The Torettos are quite the mixed blood strain,” says Caucasian antagonist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who spends much of the film imprisoned in what looks like a Hannibal-Lecter-style glass cage of emotion. She’s actually working with Jakob, because white villainy.

Anyway, F&F flicks are always about family. So F9 revolves around Dom and Jakob’s daddy issues, which are somehow represented and amplified by a bunch of heirloom crucifix necklaces that they all seem to wear. Speed racer Jack Toretto (J.D. Pardo) taught Dom that life is about being the better man, not the stronger one, although I think Dom didn’t realize it was an either/or adage and conflated the two anyway. Dom is still haunted by his dad’s fiery death on a NASCAR speedway in 1989 and blames Jakob, who resents living in his brother’s shadow and yet has literally stayed in the shadows for the past eight films.

F9 ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Justin Lin
Written by: Daniel Casey, Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron
Running time: 145 mins

“Nothing’s more powerful than the love of family—or more dangerous,” quips Queenie Shaw (Dame Helen Mirren), the saucy-but-wise British underworld matriarch. She pops up in a stolen necklace, white dress, and zebra-striped booties and takes Dom for a high-speed chase around Buckingham Palace in her purple Noble sports car. An international franchise needs international locations, so the film careens from London to Tokyo to Tbilisi for some globe-trotting property damage.

The MacGuffin that keeps the cast on their toes is an emerald-glowing bisected buckyball that will activate a nefarious doomsday device called Project Aires, which—brace yourself—overrides anything with code. Talk about plot overreach. “It’ll reboot everything,” we’re told, which made me worry about resetting the clock on my microwave oven. In this case, it also means whoever controls it will magically control every weapons system on earth.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

For some reason, the bad guys have a truck full of powerful magnets in Edinburgh, which our heroes and heroines quickly hijack, immediately understand how to operate, and put in their cars. Drivers use light-up dials that modulate electro-magnetivity in weirdly specific ways, which leads to some impressively creative but deeply preposterous Malachi-crunch hijinks.

F9 delivers all the expected feels when it comes to overblown action set pieces and overwrought interpersonal dynamics. Expect souped-up roadsters that outrun land mines, a secret spy plane, an infected satellite, orbiting candy wrappers, tons of shattered glass, a fuzzy digital cameo from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), and scores of white-clad hotties shaking their asses at a women-only dance party outside of a creepy scion’s mansion. Oh, and a block-long armored transport that backflips on a city street. Plus a family dinner at the end. It’s ridiculous and sublime. And that’s the gasoline fueling this seemingly endless saga which promises to end with the next film. “This whole operation is band-aids and duct tape,” says Ludacris. Pretty much.

“It’s all just math and science.” Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson in ‘F9’.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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