The Fate of the Furious (M, 136 mins) Directed by F Gary Gray ★★★★ The American writer HL Mencken probably never actually did say, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public”.
But that hasn’t stopped the quote echoing down over the last century or so and occasionally ending up in the first paragraph of many a supercilious and vaguely sneering review of some helpless movie or show. Well, nah.
The truth is, stupid is not as easy as it looks. And just because the audience for stupid is reliable and vast, that doesn’t mean we can’t tell good stupid from bad. So if we were going to update that thing that Mencken probably never said today, in a world in which there are now eight standalone episodes of The Fast and The Furious franchise to choose from and in which each one has made enough money to but a modest-sized country, then a better version might be, “just because you don’t like it pal, that don’t make it dumb”. Or, put another way. Yes, I have just watched a nuclear submarine, driven by Charlize Theron on a laptop, chase a Lamborghini across the Arctic sea ice. But I was surrounded by several hundred cheering and whooping audience members while I did so. And I’m pretty sure, maybe sometime during Jason Statham’s gun-fight-while-carrying-a-baby-on-a-plane, which was going on at the same time, I’m pretty sure I grunted out a few cheers myself.
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The Fate of the Furious, from the moment they dreamed up that ludicrous title, was always going to be an enormous, steaming pile of weapons-grade stupid. After the last installment’s relative restraint – star Paul Walker dying during production kind of sucked the jollity out of that film’s final scenes – the series is now back doing what it’s always done best: Thinking up ever more nonsensical ways of hurling metal and CGI across our eyeballs in the service of the sort of plots that most Saturday morning kids’-cartoon writers would reject as being a bit far-fetched.
This is Wacky Races-style storytelling, as performed by Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Helen Mirren, a support cast of dozens and – of course – at the core of every storyline, Mrs Diesel’s boy Vin.
Diesel is considerably more likeable in this iteration than he is in the similarly daft xXx series. His character Dominic Toretto is now married in the Fast series, which at least spares us xXx’s unfortunate penchant for having its lead actor grope and ogle every one of his female co-stars.
Around Diesel, everyone, but especially Statham and Johnson, gets a few nice moments.
Statham’s aforementioned toddler-toting shootout, while it may be a direct lift from John Woo’s Hard Boiled, is a maniacal highlight in a film that really never pauses for breath. For me, the other highlights were a nicely weighted opening stanza in the newly opened streets of Havana. And a long and furious prison-break sequence featuring the dual slap-heads Statham and Johnson racing for the gates like they were chasing the last packet of Propecia in the world. Rodriguez, often under-rated, manages to inject some unexpected and welcome heart into the moments she is onscreen.
Listen. No one measures the success of a film like The Fate of the Furious by how much the reviewers liked it. The box office is all that matters. But, I’ve always thought the bottom line of my self-written job-description is to say whether I think a movie is worth the price of the ticket, if you’re the person who the marketing is aimed at.
For The Fate of the Furious, just as it has been for most of its happily deranged brethren, the answer is yes. Hell, yes.