The films that make up the “Fast and the Furious” franchise 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 films about fast cars and chosen family have a charm that wins over audiences.
F. Gary Gray takes his turn behind the wheel directing “The Fate of the Furious,” but directors come and go. It’s the 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 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 surrounding himself with charismatic performers. Diesel brings out the best in tough girl Michelle Rodriguez, and he 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 Kurt Russell along the way, and in “Fate,” he taps two best actress Oscar winners in Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren to come along for the ride.
Gray opens 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. The last act involves a high-speed chase across a frozen sea, featuring snowmobiles, a tank, a neon-orange Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine.
Gray doesn’t shy away from dark material and moments, though that’s balanced by the lighthearted banter between Johnson and Statham, Gibson and Ludacris, and everyone razzing the rookie agent (Scott Eastwood). Tonally, it’s all over the map, but it doesn’t detract from the fun.
“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 operatic heights and flights of vehicular fantasy that directors like Justin Lin and James Wan pulled off. But there are some 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”
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language. 2:16. Fayette, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Paris drive-in, Richmond, Winchester.