Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Review: FAST X

 by Rob DiCristino

Ride or die.

A warning here, at the outset: There is absolutely no reason for anyone but a dyed-in-the-wool Fast & Furious superfan to see Fast X. There’s nothing for the laymen here. Do you know why Dom wants Cipher dead? Do you know why Han and Shaw would make a bad team? Would you recognize Scott Eastwood if you saw him in a public place? No? Then Fast X isn’t for you. It’s for the die-hards. The true believers. It’s for those possessing the patience to navigate its labyrinthine interpersonal relationships and suspend disbelief long enough to forgive its blatant disregard for the natural laws of gods and men. It’s barely a movie, really; it’s a greatest hits album writ large in IMAX, a desperate attempt to bottle whatever remaining goodwill audiences still have for the franchise as it sputters incoherently into its third decade. Do you like cloying plays for nostalgia? Great. Do you care that Paul Walker’s death robbed these films of their emotional core a decade ago? No? Fantastic. Enjoy the very loud, very stupid Fast X.
We begin in Rio de Janeiro, flashing back to the climactic — and thoroughly awesome — bank vault heist that closed out 2011’s Fast Five. While our heroes face off with drug lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), Fast X reveals that his son Dante (Jason Momoa) was injured in the battle, waking later to find his father dead and their empire in ruins. Swearing revenge, Dante spends the ensuing years gathering power and neutralizing enemies, with cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) as his latest target. When a bruised and battered Cipher crawls her way to his front door, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) realizes that his past misdeeds are coming back to haunt him. Gather the Family and fight back, right? Too late: Dante has already lured most of the gang into various traps, and the rest soon find themselves dancing to his sadistic tune. Dom’s only backup is Tess (Brie Larson), an agency operative who believes that her new boss Aimes (Alan Ritchson) is playing a secret role in the conspiracy against Toretto and his family.

Like its predecessors, Fast X is a globe-hopping, muscle-bound extravaganza of excess punctuated by brawny one-liners and computer-generated delights. Fan-favorite characters like Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Han (Sung Kang) all have ample screen time, with Fast luminary Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and sophomore teammate Jakob (John Cena) leading significant B-plots of their very own. A thrilling car chase in Rome gives way to clandestine operations on the streets of London; a mile-high airliner escape leads to a trek across the Antarctic wilderness. It’s all here! All at once! Mostly at random! That reckless narrative abandon is part of the fun, of course, as are the endless cameos — Remember anyone from any Fast movie ever? They’re back! — and Toretto’s single-minded commitment to protecting his family from threats he mostly brings upon them all by himself. Hidden siblings? You bet! Nonsensical computer hacking? It’s here. Bulletproof protagonists? This is Fast & Furious, baby!
But while some lip service is paid to calling out these charming idiosyncrasies (Aimes refers to the Family as a “cult with barbeques” and wonders aloud if Dom is even familiar with gravity), Fast X isn’t as self-aware as it thinks it is, often leaning so carelessly into its worst impulses that it becomes a parody of itself. Director Louis Leterrier (called in from the bullpen after series regular Justin Lin quit mid-production) is either unwilling or unable to control the jarring tonal shifts and chaotic editing patterns that make each and every scene feel like its own disparate episode of Fast & Furious: The Series. Nothing gels; nothing matches. We’re not five seconds removed from a brutal defeat in one story thread before we’re asked to giggle along with drug-induced hijinks in another. This dissonance isn’t new, of course, but previous entries at least had Justin Lin’s action savvy or John Singleton’s authorial voice to keep things on track. Fast X lacks that adult supervision and quickly descends into bedlam.
Newcomers Jason Momoa and Brie Larson understand their assignments — Momoa is doing a flamboyant Joker thing that works until it doesn’t, while Larson settles for “Starchy White Person in a Fast Movie” — and, with Fast XI already assured, the film flexes newfound muscle by ending on a dramatic cliffhanger. Otherwise, we’re firmly on autopilot, having long-since given up any hope of replicating the Vin Diesel/Paul Walker fire that helped the original Fasts grow so gloriously beyond their Point Break roots. Character references have replaced character arcs, and laughable platitudes about “family” and “fate” have replaced cogent dramatic stakes. But what does it matter? Are we laughing with this series or laughing at it? Is there even a difference? Fast X’s failure to function as a movie may, in fact, underline its overwhelming success as a cultural artifact. Fast & Furious is a pop song, a Big Mac; its repetitive nature is sweet and reassuring. We in the audience made this bed, after all, and now it’s time we sleep in it.

Fast X is in theaters Thursday.

1 comment:

  1. I think I saw Scott Eastwood once. But maybe it was someone else.