A confession: When I was younger, I used to enjoy the humour in Michael Bay movies. This was around the same time that most movie nights with friends invariably involved repeat viewings of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Two things have happened in the last decade-and-a-half. I have outgrown the juvenile comedy in Michael Bay’s films, but I have also doubled down on my belief that Tokyo Drift is the best entry in the Fast & Furious franchise.
A recent rewatch confirmed as much. But if one’s childhood tastes prove anything, it’s this: regardless of whether or not you evolve, another generation of teens will take your place as the target audience for films about warring robot clans and drifting cars. This doesn’t make your old opinions invalid, but it certainly makes it difficult for you, as an adult, to defend the kind of nonsense you tweaked on as a child.
Watch the Fast & Furious 9 trailer here:
To contextualise this passage of time, here’s a story. I was disallowed from watching the fourth film in the Fast Saga (which was hardly a saga at all back then) because the Central Board of Film Certification, in the Year of Our Lord Vin Diesel 2009, decided that a movie about a scowling bald man should be rated ‘A’. The polite lady at Satyam Nehru Place was firm in her ‘no’, as was the dude at PVR Saket (we took Vin’s advice and didn’t give up). And now, the ninth film in the same franchise is being streamed into homes (not ours; India is getting a theatrical release). The enjoyment of the Fast Saga, therefore, depends largely on how old you are, and on whether or not you’re able to successfully tap into your past.
F9 isn’t as ridiculous as some of the franchise’s earlier entries, but not for lack of trying. The difference, this time around, is that its efforts to push the boundaries of believability are transparently cynical. When director Justin Lin ended Fast Five with a high-speed chase across Rio de Janeiro, it almost came across as too brazen — a move so unexpected for a series that was originally about people who stole DVD players, that you had no choice but to shrug in admiration and sit back for the ride.
This is similar to what happened when Tom Cruise decided to personally scale the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. It seems like now, both Cruise and Diesel are solely motivated by the unquenchable desire to outdo themselves. And it’s no coincidence that both of them landed on the same outlandish idea with which to escalate this lunacy: space, the final frontier.
As we speak, Cruise is putting together a mission to the International Space Station, where he will become the first person to shoot a narrative feature. Meanwhile, Diesel decided to put his actual underlings Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris in Minion costumes and told Justin Lin to film them flounder in zero gravity against a green screen. What neither of them realised is that this increases the self-parody levels to a degree that will be nearly impossible to recover from. The biggest surprise now won’t be to set the tenth and eleventh films on Mars, or to have Luda invent a time travel machine so that Diesel can drive a Ford Model T off a canyon, but to scale down and create films that hark back to the relatively grounded origins of the franchise.
The action in F9, conceptually, is insane. But there is a flatness in the execution that stems from Lin’s decision to stage the film’s most high-stakes set-pieces on stretches of highway. Besides the one scene in Edinburgh, whose impact itself is routinely undercut by poor humour, the rest of the film’s action feels like an unimaginative, repetitive slog. The movie’s sole racing sequence, however, serves as an unexpected blast-from-the-past on not just a narrative level, but also tonally.
While it may trip over itself in moments of bombast, some of the soapy storytelling (which involves a long-lost brother played by John Cena, yet another character who returns from the dead, and a previously resurrected woman taking the child of another lady as her own) resembles a roadside accident you can’t look away from.
A cool cynicism has set into the Fast & Furious franchise. Beneath the glossy action, jokes that have been workshopped to within an inch of their lives, and literal contractual stipulations that certain actors should not come across as wimps, the Fast Saga has become a classic example of committee-driven studio filmmaking at its worst.
Also read: Hobbs & Shaw movie review: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham derail the Fast & Furious franchise
F9 is bloated beyond belief, to the point that it seems it has eaten a tandoori platter in record time and is now belching in your face. This is forgivable; many films bite off more than they can chew. But for it to be boring as well is absolutely unpardonable. Years from now, F9 will settle into its position as the Fast franchise’s forgotten entry — Rock-less, ridiculous, and ultimately irredeemable.
Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga
Director – Justin Lin
Cast – Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, John Cena, Sung Kang, Nathalie Emmanuel
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Fast & Furious 9 movie review: Vin Diesel’s running out of fuel; F9 is like a roadside accident you can’t look away from | Hollywood