The Fate of The Furious

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2017

Universal Pictures

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell/Chris Morgan

Written by Chris Morgan
Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

If way back in 2001 when the first movie in the franchise “The Fast and The Furious” hit the theaters you had told me that movie would be the first in a series of (so far) eight movies and that the eighth movie would feature a better James Bond villain than most of the recent Daniel Craig James Bond movies….

And fans of the Daniel Craig/James Bond movies are right now rolling their eyes or tuning out this review. But what can I say? To a large degree, “The Fast and The Furious” movies (as well as the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” series) are giving me what I used to go to James Bond movies for. Insanely over the top action sequences. Astounding fight scenes. Lush, exotic locations. Cool gadgets and gizmos. More gorgeous women than one movie should be allowed to contain. Batshit insane plots that at once seem perfectly logical yet utterly nonsensical. Colorful, larger-than-life heroes. Brilliantly deranged multi-billionaire supervillains bent on taking over or destroying the world. All this and more is in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, a movie that despite being the eighth installment still manages to provide something new. A lot of it is improbable and some of it I do admit, baffling (the character development and relationships between Deckard Shaw, Dominic Toretto and Luke Hobbs is something that you’re either going to just have to go with or reject as total BS) but the movie delivers on what it promises and since I’m a fan of these movies, that was good enough for me.

Hard to believe that this series started off as a knock-off of “Point Break” ain’t it? In the course of eight movies we’ve watched Dominic Toretto and his crew morph from street racing hi-jackers into a gonzo, hyperactive mash up of The IMF and The A-Team and it’s been fun to watch. This movie ups the ante considerably as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue and turns against his own team, forming an alliance with international cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) who has a plan to become her own nuclear superpower, a rival to both the United States and Russia.

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Dominic’s team is naturally baffled and mystified as to Dominic’s defection. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) thinks they should go get Brian O’Connor to help them out. Dominic’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) nixes that idea. Brian is out of the game (but it’s nice that they took a minute to acknowledge his character is happy in his retirement). The newest member of the team, hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) thinks they should give him up as a lost cause. The team’s technical expert Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) frankly doesn’t know what to make of the situation.

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Fortunately assistance arrives in the person of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) the government shadow operative and his protege Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) who brings along Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to capture both Dominic and Cipher and stop her nefarious plans.

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Oh, naturally it’s a little more complicated than that since you’ll remember (or maybe you don’t) that Deckard Shaw was the Big Bad of the previous movie and spent a considerable amount of the running time trying to kill Dominic and his crew. By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy involving the circumstances of Shaw’s joining the crew and I think that writer Chris Morgan could have done better than to simply not address the issue at all. But since there are two more movies left to go as the current scuttlebutt says that the series will wrap up with the tenth installment I’m thinking that maybe there will be more to this.

And actually, considering that Statham steals the movie every chance he gets with such energy and humor I don’t think anybody will mind too much. His bickering back and forth with Dwayne Johnson provides much of the humor with Tyrese Gibson picking up the rest as he seems to have settled comfortably in the role of the series’ comedic relief. And Statham has a fight scene on Cipher’s flying headquarters that is among the finest of fight scenes he’s done. Seriously. It’s that jaw-droppingly good.

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As for the set-pieces: there’s a race through the streets of Havana that’s a nice callback to the roots of the series. A wild sequence in New York where Cipher takes remote control of hundreds of cars in Manhattan and uses them as weapons and the insane final action sequence which finds Our Heroes in Russia, being chased across a frozen sea by a nuclear submarine, barely staying ahead of it while fighting off hoards of enemies in vehicles just as tricked out as theirs.

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Some are going to say that THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS goes way too far. I’m not one of them. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it is, what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to deliver. It’s not embarrassed or ashamed of what it is and director F. Gary Gray handles his cast and his movie with a sort of delirious, goofy glee as if he’s having the time of his life and wants us to join in the fun. I know I did. Highly Recommended.

PG-13

137 minutes

Furious 7

Furious-7

2015

Universal Pictures/Original Film/One Race Films/Relativity Media/Media Rights Capital

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

I have a lot of admiration for “The Fast and The Furious” film series. The first movie “The Fast and The Furious” was little more than an unofficial remake of “Point Break” substituting street racing clubs for surfers. Gradually the movies changed and developed into crime thrillers, teenage coming of age dramas and heist movies. With “Fast & Furious 6” and now FURIOUS 7 they’ve become full tilt boogie action-adventure spectacles with international locations, larger-than-life villains, breathtaking fight scenes and mind-boggling stunts that easily match and yes, sometimes top what you would expect to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. There a scene in this movie where silky smooth spymaster Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) “This is the world you’re in now, like it or not.” Which I interpret as a sly hint that this type of globe-trotting espionage capers is where the franchise is heading now. And if we’ve got more movies as good as FURIOUS 7 coming, then I eagerly await them.

It seems as if life has finally settled down for Dominic and his family. He’s helping Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) try and regain her lost memories. Ex-cop/Ex-FBI agent turned professional criminal Brian O’Conner has resolved to become a family man with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son Jack even though he reveals to Mia that he misses the jazz of his dangerous life.

None of them have to worry about being bored. Dom’s house is blown up and he’s informed by his ally Luke Hobbs of the Diplomatic Security Service (Dwayne Johnson) that Dom and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) the older and definitely meaner brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) the villain from the last movie who is now in a coma. Deckard is out for revenge and has already killed Han Lue (Sung Kang)

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Dom is contacted by Mr. Nobody who offers to help Dom catch Deckard if Dom and his crew will help him stop a vicious mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) from getting his hands on God’s Eye. It’s a frighteningly sophisticated computer program that can use any digital device in the world to track any individual (think of it as the little sister of the Big Brother-ish Machine from “Person of Interest’) and Jakande has the creator of God’s Eye, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) After rounding up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) the band is back together and they set out to rescue the hacker, recover God’s Eye and save the world.

Well, maybe not save the world, but there certainly is that kind of feel as our heroes race around the globe from the Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles. And in each one these locals there are jaw-dropping action sequences that are insanely preposterous but I couldn’t help but watch with a goofy grin on my mug because dammit, that’s the reason why I go to see movies of this type. Give me the insane and the preposterous every time.

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What’s even more amazing to me is that all this astounding action is served up by James Wan, who as far as I know has directed mainly horror movies. Who knew that this cat had this kind of action movie in him? And now that we know, he should be given nothing but action movies to do. Seriously, FURIOUS 7 would be an impressive piece of work from a seasoned action director. But coming from Wan, who hasn’t done this genre before…well, he gets a standing ovation from me.

By now, everybody knows their characters inside and out and in a way, we all do as well. The team just isn’t a team. It’s a family as well and while that aspect may feel like it’s being beaten to death at times, it’s such an essential element of these characters that there’s no way a “Fast and Furious” movie can do without it. Especially not when the story has these kinds of stakes, what with Torretto & Co. being hunted by Deckard for personal reasons. James Wan isn’t afraid to slow down the action to develop emotional scenes between his characters and that gives resonance to the story in-between the cars flying through buildings and parachuting out of planes.

There’s a lot of great fight scenes in here, more elaborate than I can remember being in the other movies. Paul Walker and Tony Jaa as Jakande’s Oddjob go at it. Michelle Rodguez and Ronda Rousey have a memorable throwdown that while I enjoyed the hell out it also had me wondering since when did Letty become such an accomplished martial artist that she’s able to take down three other opponents at the same time before her main bout with Rousey’s character? We also get Johnson vs. Statham and Diesel vs. Statham. There’s your money’s worth right there, partners.

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So should you see FURIOUS 7? What, are you kidding me? YES. It’s a non-stop action extravaganza that’s not afraid to show heart and emotion, especially at the movie’s end which is both a truly moving tribute to Paul Walker and a sendoff for Brian O’Connor. If they never do another “The Fast and The Furious” movie, FURIOUS 7 is a more than satisfying way to end the series. This is the rare film series that has has gotten bigger and better with each new entry (I won’t mention “Tokyo Drift” if you won’t, okay?) and I hope it only continues to get bigger and better. Highly Recommended.

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137 Minutes

PG-13

Riddick

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RIDDICK

2013

Universal Pictures/Entertainment One

Written and Directed by David Twohy

Produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent

Based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

When we pick up on RIDDICK it is five years after the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and he has learned what many a king before him has learned: it is easier to seize a crown than hold it. You may remember that at the end of that movie, Riddick slew The Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) and thereby himself ascended to the throne of The Lord Marshall, leading The Necromongers, religious fanatics who either convert or destroy entire planetary populations. “The Chronicles of Riddick” left us on quite a cliffhanger wondering what the most dangerous man in the galaxy would do with his own army.

Turns out not much at all. Riddick is double-crossed by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) who tricks Riddick into going to a desolate planet that may or may not be Riddick’s homeworld of Furya. Riddick is left to die on that planet. A fate that he himself thinks he deserves because in those five years he allowed himself to get soft, to lose his edge. As this is a hostile planet full of hideously dangerous lifeforms that appear to do nothing but eat anything and everything, Riddick sees this as the perfect opportunity to get back the edge he’s lost, strip away the surface veneer of civilization and return to what he once was: the perfect killing machine.

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I can’t help but wonder if after the ambitiously baroque excess of “The Chronicles of Riddick” David Twohy and Vin Diesel sat down to plot out this story and themselves wondered if they had lost their edge as well. Maybe they had taken Riddick too far from the character they had established with such overwhelming success in “Pitch Black.” Maybe they felt they had to pull Riddick back to his roots and for that reason RIDDICK plays out a lot like “Pitch Black 2.0” in the third act.

And for the record, I like “The Chronicles of Riddick” a lot. I approve of an ambitious failure much more than a play-it-safe success. The only problem I have with that movie is that it’s actually two movies in one. Once Riddick leaves Helion Prime and gets to Crematoria it’s an entirely different movie with its own supporting cast of characters that have nothing to do with the cast back on Helion Prime. That’s not to say it’s not exciting stuff to watch and if you haven’t seen “The Chronicles of Riddick” yet then consider that your homework assignment for the weekend. But let’s get back to RIDDICK.

Riddick is enjoying his life on this godforsaken planet, regaining his killing edge but the real test is to come when two separate groups of mercenary bounty hunters show up to capture Riddick dead or alive. One group is led by Boss Johns (Matthew Noble) the father of William Johns (Cole Hauser) from “Pitch Black.” He wants answers from Riddick as to his son’s fate. The other group is led by Santana (Jordi Molla) who simply wants Riddick’s head. The cat-and-mouse game of blood between Riddick and the mercenaries quickly develops into an all-out war for survival when the humans are attacked by a horde of savage monsters and must work together to stay alive long enough to get off the planet.

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RIDDICK doesn’t add anything to the mythology of Richard B. Riddick and his universe the way “The Chronicles of Riddick” did and to me it feels like a movie whose only purpose is to re-establish Riddick as the character he was in “Pitch Black” before sending him off on further adventures. I hope so as I’m looking for a proper resolution of the Necromonger storyline in the next Riddick movie as there is still a lot of potential there to be explored.

The acting in RIDDICK is nothing to write home about but neither is it anything to sneer at either. It’s the type of acting that serves the need of the story. No more and no less. Jordi Molla walks off with the acting honors here. Santana is a delightfully goofy character that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaghetti western. Fans of Katee Sackhoff require nothing of her except to stand around looking hot, talk plenty of shit and beat the piss outta guys and so they will be more than satisfied with her performance here.

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As for Vin Diesel himself, he slips back into Riddick’s skin with no problem and he again reminds us that when he wants to, Vin Diesel can act really well. I loved the first half hour or so of the movie which shows Riddick on his own, learning how to survive on the planet. I would have loved it more without the voiceovers but I appreciated the reminder that Riddick isn’t a thug or an ignorant killer. He’s actually very intelligent and perceptive with an inner life he shows to nobody.

So should you see RIDDICK? Yes. Even though to me it feels like a placeholder and not a complete movie. It feels to me like a warm-up before Twohy and Diesel tell a Riddick story that they really care about. It’s not a terrific nail-biter like “Pitch Black” or a pulse-pounding planet-hopping space opera like “The Chronicles of Riddick” but it’s an honest and respectably entertaining entry in the series with hopefully more to come. Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated R

Fast & Furious 6

Fast-Furious-6

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by Neal H. Moritz & Vin Diesel

Written by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

If you want me to go into details about how I feel about the earlier entries in the immensely popular THE FAST & THE FURIOUS film series permit me to direct you to the episode of Better In The Dark where Tom Deja and I discussed the previous five films. For the purposes of this review just let me give you snapshots impressions:

The Fast and The Furious: a professionally made thriller that’s more of an urban crime movie about a conflicted undercover cop investigating petty criminals that happen to be street racers than a hyperactive action spectacular like the later movies.

2 Fast 2 Furious: Pretty much an episode of “Miami Vice” on steroids, this entry of the series is notable because it introduces the characters of Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) to the series. I don’t dislike it but I’m not crazy about it, either.

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift: This is the one movie in the series I can say without reservation that I hate. The only reason to watch it is that it introduces Han (Sung Kang) who like Roman and Tej will play a larger and more interesting role in later movies. It’s also worth noting that even though Han dies in this movie he’s brought back in later ones by the simple explanation that Fast & Furious, Fast Five and FAST & FURIOUS 6 take place before The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift

Fast & Furious: The beginning of moving Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew from a team of petty criminals to a crew of international thieves as the movie begins with him, his girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) Han and two new recruits, Leo (Tego Calderon) and Santos (Don Omar) hijacking fuel tankers in the Dominican Republic. I like the two new recruits a lot and this movie spends a lot of time on one of my favorite themes that run throughout all the Fast & Furious movies: Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is a really shitty cop and both his fellow cops and crooks know it. The only person who doesn’t know it is Brian himself. Even other cops tell him he’d be happier going off the reservation since he’s way better at being a crook than a cop. Also it’s notable that this is the movie where Letty supposedly dies, setting up the motivation for Dominic and the crew to get involved in FAST & FURIOUS 6.

Fast Five: My favorite of the series so far. The movie makes the transition to full-blown heist caper with Dominic and Brian rounding up Han, Roman, Tej, Leo, Santos as well as Vince (Matt Scultze) who appeared in the first movie, ex-Mossad agent Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) who was in the last one and Dominic’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster.) Together the crew plans to steal $100 million from a corrupt South American businessman. The plan is complicated because of Dominic, Brian and Mia being blamed for the murders of several DEA agents. They’re being ruthlessly pursued by U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his relentless team of manhunters. The movie plays out like a low-tech version of “Mission: Impossible.” And the plan for stealing the vault containing the money delights me to no end since its pretty much equal to a couple of teenage kids in a pickup truck hooking chains to a ATM standing outside the local bodega and driving off with it.

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Which brings us to FAST & FURIOUS 6. If “Fast Five” was a low-rent riff on “Mission: Impossible” then FAST & FURIOUS 6 is riffing on “The A-Team” as Dominic and Brian once again get the band back together to take on a high-tech team of mercenaries that are so far out of their league that Roman Pearce demands to know just who in the hell thought that they could take on this team in the first place. When a character played by Tyrese Gibson is your voice of reason, then you know the movie’s in trouble.

It’s also Roman Pearce who accurately points out the reason why Luke Hobbs has engaged them for this mission: the team led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) are basically evil dopplegangers of Dominic’s crew. But Shaw’s team has one major edge: Letty Ortiz who survived the events of “Fast & Furious” but is now an amnesiac. Shaw found her in the hospital and has indoctrinated her into his team.

Hobbs has tracked down Dominic and shows him a recent picture of Letty. Hobbs wants Dominic and his crew to help him take down Shaw. Shaw is stealing the components of a doomsday device called The Nightshade, a sort of super-EMP weapon that can black out entire cities. Dominic is in it just to get Letty back but Brian is smart enough to make a deal for the whole team: they all get full pardons so that they can return to the United States in peace. Hobbs agrees and our movie goes into full tilt boogie mode.

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FAST & FURIOUS 6 is a movie that I say is truthful in the titling. Is it Fast? Yes. Is it Furious? Yes. I myself think it’s a very smart move for the producers to turn the characters from minor league street racing hijackers to the blue collar version of Ocean’s Eleven. They’ve got just enough skill and nerve to place them a notch above common criminals and we see that Hobbs made a good decision to engage them to help him. It’s even validated by Shaw who tells his team that they’d do well to respect Dominic’s crew. The James Bond-ish MacGuffin is a nice way to kick the series up a further notch into the realm of international action/adventure and indeed, Luke Wilson’s Owen Shaw is a villain who wouldn’t have been out of place in a James Bond movie of the Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton eras. Shaw even drives an Aston Martin which gave me a nice chuckle.

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It’s not a classic action movie by any means and in fact, some may say it has too much action. It’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that I actually felt exhausted by the time it got to the end. But it does have some really outstanding sequences including the crew trying to stop a speeding tank going down the wrong way on a highway and an entertaining fight scene on an airplane where Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson pretty much become a wrestling tag team.

I did miss Leo and Santos as they provided much of the humor in the previous movie and without them, the comedy relief falls on Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges, neither of them very funny far as I’m concerned but they try their best, I’ll give them that.

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So should you see FAST & FURIOUS 6? Sure, why not? It’s a totally inoffensive and highly entertaining time-waster. By now you know what these movies are all about so you shouldn’t be going to see FAST & FURIOUS 6 and then complaining because it’s nothing but loud, spectacular action sequences held together by just enough plot and characterization to keep things moving, Because that’s exactly what it is. But at the same time it’s not completely brain dead. It takes a considerable amount of time to making Letty’s return from the dead plausible and there’s some real conflict in her feelings for Shaw and her reawakening love for Dominic. And I appreciate that in the final action sequence, there’s something for every member of the team to do. It’s makes for a loud and crowded movie but a fun one.

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And there’s a post-credit scene that is a set-up for the inevitable “Fast & Furious 7” that will have you salivating. Trust me on this. Enjoy.

PG-13

130 Minutes