The Stew Review: Ninth “Fast & Furious” movie equal parts exciting, absurd

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a...
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from "F9: The Fast Saga."(Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures via AP)
Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 9:56 AM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - “F9” is one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen. I loved every single minute of it.

I admit that it’s a bit difficult to know precisely how to review something like “F9,” the ninth entry in the impossibly long-running “Fast & Furious” franchise. Though the first few films always had their own tinges of absurdity fueling them, the series has long since blown past anything resembling a “grounded” tone or plot. When the main characters who started out boosting TVs and DVD players are now wrapped up in plots that are equal parts Mad Max and James Bond, how does one critique that?

My approach to any review is to simply engage the film on its own terms, but after 20 years and nine films I wonder if even that level of scrutiny really matters. But as the movie rockets forward, it becomes increasingly clear the creative minds behind this series have fully thrown caution to the wind, delivering a film that may in fact be impervious to criticism.

At minimum, though, it’s clear that returning director Justin Lin, producer/star Vin Diesel and the writing collective of Daniel Casey and Alfredo Botello wanted to give audiences as much movie as possible. The first major action scene involves Dom (Diesel) using a bridge rope to swing his Dodge Charger like Tarzan from one cliffside to the next and things only get more absurd from there so I’d say they more or less succeeded. Suffice to say, there is no concept too silly that Lin and Vin won’t fully commit to it, going so far as to literally launch two long-standing team members into space using a rocket-propelled Pontiac Fiero.

That commitment extends into the actual storytelling as well. It’s been obvious since the fourth film that these movies are really just soap operas with sports cars and explosions, but “F9” embraces that soapy opera-ness with a big ‘ol bear hug not once but *twice*, playing the “long-lost brother who’s now actually a bad guy” and “this character you loved and thought was dead is now alive and well” cards near-simultaneously. One would think that for all of Dom’s posturing on the importance of “family” that he’d at least in passing have once mentioned that he’s got a brother, estranged though Jakob (John Cena) may be. But leaving the reveal until nine films in only amplifies the absurdity.

Part of me is convinced that all of this ridiculousness is simply Vin and Lin pushing forward with a series of dares as to how far they can push things. Because it feels increasingly clear that they looked at everything people would joke about over the last decade - “Bring Han back from the dead! Go to outer space! Family family family!” - and then defiantly dropped it all into here but cranked up to 11. That it all (mostly) works is nothing short of miraculous.

But then, there’s also an undeniable strain of self-awareness propelling the proceedings. On more than one occasion, characters question out loud whether they’re actually immortal superheroes. Everyone making these knows how stupid it’s all getting, and they embrace it with a passion. Pushing the limits of what’s actually credulous is now, it would seem, largely the point. Whether that works for you is mostly a matter of preference and frankly I don’t blame anyone who considers it all to simply be A Bit Much.

That said, pushing the limits of what can be stuffed into a “Fast & Furious” movie does take its toll. This is especially evident in the fact that Charlize Theron’s return as the villainous Cipher is mostly wasted. She films most of her scenes in a warehouse and we never once see her share the screen with Dom or any of the main crew, making me wonder why they even brought her back in the first place. You have the woman who took center stage in a “Mad Max” movie and in two movies you have yet to put her behind the wheel of a car? Baffling. Then again, Dame Helen Mirren practically begged to be cast in the series and it took making a third appearance for her to finally get to drive (in a delightful scene shared with Diesel), so here’s hoping Fast 10 is when Theron gets to do the same.

Oh and while he plays the heel better than I expected, it still felt a bit of a waste to keep John Cena so po-faced serious for the entire movie. His talents lie in his comic delivery and in playing the good guy.

Still, what we have with “F9” is a film that works often in spite of itself. This should collapse under the sheer weight of itself with massive, increasingly ridiculous setpieces, to say nothing of the *wild* shifts in tone as it careens recklessly moment-to-moment between scenes of po-faced seriousness and whatever wacky action scene often follows.

And yet it doesn’t. Or maybe it does. I honestly don’t even know anymore. My affection for these movies certainly has its limits (looking at you “Hobbs & Shaw”), but I’m so largely in the tank for the ridiculousness of each escalating entry that it’s hard to know. All I do know is that I had a blast watching this and I can’t wait to see how they choose to end this ridiculous saga.

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