The Fate of the Furious (***): Don’t think. It’s Meat

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The Fate of the Furious – 2017

Director F. Gary Gray
Screenplay Chris Morgan
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron

Don’t think that I don’t know that this series is as dumb as anything I have ever seen.

Don’t think I don’t want to see someone beaten like a Cherokee drum.

Don’t think that I don’t know that there is some serious man crushing going on between The Rock’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard.

Don’t think that it isn’t kind of cool to see all those cars fall from above in NYC.

Don’t think that it isn’t cool seeing Dom turn heel when they run out of story-lines.

Don’t think for a minute I can’t tell you’re trying to make Scott Eastwood a star eventually. And I hope it works well enough to give him a personality, too.

Don’t think I buy for a second that anyone who dies in this series is really dead. And the one guy who died outside the series will ever be shown as dead.

Don’t think I am any less tired of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman than I am of Dom “Meathead” Torretto.

Don’t think I don’t miss Sung Kang and Gal Gadot.

Don’t think I don’t know it’s not random choice that Theron’s Cipher makes when doling out punishment. It’s about as Random as Gadot dying just before her boyfriend Kang in part 6.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching The Rock kicking ass.We always need more Statham.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching Luda as a techno Wiz. I would buy anything he’s selling.

Don’t think that the snow chase isn’t as dumb as it is cool. More submarine, please.

Don’t think I can ever get enough of Helen Mirren.

Don’t think the laws of physics on this or any planet will apply.

Don’t think I don’t want to hear Roman stop yelling.

Don’t think any of this will ever make sense.

Don’t think that the grand master antagonist isn’t working for some other grand master antagonist in another movie down the line.

Don’t believe there won’t be a full immunity or full reinstatement at the end of every film.

Don’t think I don’t want to see Hobbs beat down Torretto.

Don’t think. It will all be better that way.

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Furious 7 (***1/2): Meatball Hallmark Card

Furious 7 – 2015

Director James Wan
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham
Screenplay Chris Morgan

If one could sum up the entire Furious franchise in 3 phrases, it would be:

I don’t have friends. I got family.

I live life a quarter-mile at a time.

One last ride.

At this point, the gang is on their 3rd consecutive last ride. This time it was made especially poignant in the untimely death of co-lead Paul Walker. The filmmakers made the wise choice to re-shoot parts of the film as an impromptu tribute to a person who had become a key figure in the lives of the cast and crew of this most uniquely enduring franchise. To think it all started as Point Break in fast cars…

In a strange twist often mentioned in the past, the movies went to the edge of American Pie Presents Band Camp status, backed up and headed right into Italian Job and then James Bond. To say this was planned would be disingenuous. Most of the actors, including Diesel, have tried and failed to come up with outside franchises. Fast and Furious, though, is like the really big fuel injected engine that could. The success of the franchise has made many fans that were casual into looky loos. And even if each film produces as many cringe-inducing moments as awe-inspiring ones, it is a tribute to the people involved that they have made it into the Juggernaut we see today.

This time around finds the group looking down the barrel of Deckard Shaw. Deckard is the brother of Owen, the antagonist from the last film who now is resting comfortably under maximum guard at the hospital. That is until Deckard obliterates the guard and most of the hospital just to tell the staff to take good care of Owen. This is ridiculous of course, because by destroying the facility, he has negatively affected the chance of his brother getting said good care. As if that is not enough of a reminder, we then see more of what we ended the last film with; the death of Han (featured in 3 films now), the explosion of a package that has arrived from Deckard (seen in two) and the maiming of Hobbs (Johnson). Apparently, the creative staff think the viewers have short memories.

Dom goes to visit Hobbs in the hospital, then goes to pick up Han and gathers the team together for Han’s funeral. If you can’t guess what will happen at the funeral, you get no Parmesan for your meatball. Dom gets acquainted with the new antagonist, and then gets to meet the new covert ops guy, Petty (Russell). That this meeting prevented the conclusion of the movie from happening 30 minutes in is not lost on either Dom or Petty, but that’s okay, we have another 1.5 hours to fill. Petty tells Dom he and his team need to get a MacGuffin called God’s Eye from some bad guys, capture the person of interest that has something MacGuffinish to do with God’s Eye and get them both back to Petty. Then, Petty says, Dom can use the God’s Eye to track down Deckard, who was just in front of him minutes ago, until Petty interfered. That’s okay, though, because Petty is a professional who was smart enough to hire an amateur for…one last ride.

Or three last rides.

Now the real jet setting begins. Dom and company go from the Los Angeles Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and then back to Los Angeles. They drop in cars from a military cargo plane, crash down a mountainside multiple times, dress up and sneak into a party, crash, jump, crash, jump and crash again through the Etihad Towers, fight it out in an old abandoned warehouse, and then tear the hell out of downtown L.A. before they approach a conclusion. There is literally more damage in this film than the last Godzilla movie. If you think I have ruined any part of this for you, you have not seen the rest of these movies. Literally the only surprise they’ve ever had was dragging the safes through town in Fast Five.

It’s completely taken for granted that whenever they arrive in a new country, they will immediately arrive in a row of expensive cars. What is also a given is no matter how much damage they cause, no one will ever question them and they will never have a problem walking out of that scene and driving into the next in another bunch of expensive cars.

All of this ridiculous action is augmented by the fact that they have collected a group of characters that we have learned to care about through sheer force of the will of all involved in making the film. They each have a few moments to shine in each episode, along with many requisite scenes that hammer the limitations of their characters into the story. This would normally be for the uninitiated. Until I brought my friend Binage, I had not met someone who hadn’t seen at least one of the films who started with in the middle somewhere. He enjoyed it though.

I enjoyed it too, despite all the belly laughs of incredulity. Through all the explosions, all the crashes, the litany of bullets, and the absolute defiance of the concept of gravity, this film really works. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the film is how all of the characters (and the people who play them outside of Bridges, Russell and Johnson) completely lack any sort of self-awareness. It’s almost like a joyful, loving Bronson film. Were it not for Walker’s tragedy, perhaps the defining point of the series would have been when Diesel stomps on a parking garage roof as it is cracking…and a large part (perhaps a quarter-mile) of the concrete  actually breaks away! We should never think of Vin as a short guy again.

The glory in lacking an understanding of who you are results in other great moments, like when, in a flash back scene, we see two characters get married. My friend Binage, until now caught up in the action, leans over and says:

“What kind of guy wears a wife-beater to his own wedding?”

Through it all, the acting is consistent, if not Shakespearean. Walker gets a fitting tribute for the simple fact that they did not take the easy way out. It’s a beautiful statement that choose to alter the formula of the surprise mid-credits scene to set up the next film to give the character the kind of closure he did not get in life.

Throughout the story, however, one gets the sense of déjà vu. Brian is in the midst of fatherhood, now driving a mini-van. He’s frustrated, saying he misses the bullets more than he misses the cars. His woman, Mia (Brewster), hems and haws much like she did last time and tells him over the phone that they are expecting another kid, this time a girl. So if one kid didn’t make him want to retire, the second should do the trick. What would they have done if he’d been around for the next few films? I get the feeling that 5 kids would not be enough to prevent him from taking yet another last ride.

Despite it’s flaws, or maybe because of them, Vin Diesel and company have created a memorable franchise out of ashes. And I am sure this “family” will be around for a while more. In the haze of bad dialogue and forced dramatic tension, there is a brilliant line delivered by Dom that steals the show and demonstrates the draw that the little lug has on the heartstrings of ‘Murica. In a tender moment shared with Letty, she asks him why he had not revealed more of their past together before she recovered from her 3 movie amnesia spell. With complete sincerity, he looks at her an says:

You can’t tell someone that they love you.

Right about now, I think everyone involved with this unlikely saga knows that they are loved.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island; There will be a third.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – 2012

Director Brad Peyton
Starring Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman
Screenplay by Brian and Mark Gunn

  • Luis Guzman has been in a bunch of good films, and he has done well in them.  Films like The Limey, Carlito’s Way, Boogie Nights, Traffic and Dreamer.  He’s also been in a lot of crap, and done horribly in those films.  You can add this to that list.
  • Michael Caine had perhaps a career performance when he played Alfred for the last time in The Dark Knight Rises.  Now he’s in this.
  • Josh Hutcherson plays Peta in The Hunger Games and its upcoming sequels.  He was grandfathered into this film by being in the last one as a child.
  • Vanessa Hudgens’ only other success to this point as been 3 High School Musical films.  This is the best she has to look forward to in her future.  At least she’s not Lindsey Lohan.
  • As for The Rock.  This is his career.  Past, present, future.
  • The first movie made $240 million.  This wasn’t enough for Brendan Fraser to be in its sequel.  This is a guy that has been in 3 Mummy movies so far.  That’s right: 3.
  • This movie made $325 million.  The profits are getting better.  The movies are not.
  • The special effects seem like they were made to be in 3D, in that way where you have lots of crap (literally, if you are Guzman) heading towards you at all times.  That’s not quite Scorsese level.
  • This is the kind of film where you get somewhere that is seemingly really cool and the moment you get there, the place is about to be destroyed in a very short time span.  That time span often coincides with the amount of time left in the movie.
  • I still have a schoolboy crush on Kristen Davis.  The first time I saw her I was in my early 20’s.
  • Good news: the whole gang will be back for the next film.  It’s supposed to be on the moon.
  • I think that the story will have as much to do with Jules Verne stories as the first two films did.  Location and title.
  • If I was to ask a question, it would be “Why is the Nautilus still there?” but I really don’t care for the answer.
  • This film was not nominated for a Razzie…but announcements have yet to be made.
  • They have my preliminary vote, God bless them.
  • Here is a picture of a tiny elephant:
It’s a small elephant. Awkwardly cute.

Fast Five. Duh.

Fast Five – 2011

Directed by Justin Lin

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Joaquim de Almeida, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang

Written by Chris Morgan

This series is never going to end.  At a point where most franchises have long run out of steam, this one made the most money of any of the films in the franchise.  In fact, the only thing disappearing from the films are words in the title.  At this rate, by the time we get to the 10th film, it will be called, simply, appropriately F.  To celebrate or lament that this franchise is going to be a part of our lives for a good, but definitely not great, while.

The Good  

  • Any time a movie can start out in Rio, the customary shot is the big statue of Jesus, known as Christ the Redeemer.  It’s kind of a way of saying, yes, Jesus looms large, but he’s not going to do more than watch us flex our muscles as we drive in fast cars.  Even if the number one lunkhead wears a cross.
  • Reaction to the big reveal of Mia’s pregnancy showed that the series, vacuous as it is,  has a lot of heart.
  • The Rock kicks ass in this film, but he doesn’t think much.
  • “Gonna do one last job…” is kind of a funny line when it comes from Vin Diesel, who has done bupkis outside of this series lately.
  • de Almeida is a great bad guy who’s never been in a movie he deserves, since Clear and Present Danger.
  • Seeing a bunch of wanted guys driving through the middle of town keeping tabs on the bad guys seems unlikely, especially when the bad guys are all looking for the good guys.
  • Ballsy to not even bother showing how they won the little light blue Ducati.  And then to drive it around the warehouse so smoothly like that?  Sweet.
  • Nice touch to let the Asian guy (Kang) get the hot Mossad agent (Gadot).
  • Vince is Fredo, but Dom is not Michael, he’s nicer than Michael.
  • The chase with the two cop cars towing the vault, while against all laws of physics, is pretty bad ass.

The Bad

  • A prison break with a bus rolling a dozen times with no one getting hurt?  Likely.
  • “If there’s anything illegal happening in Rio, Reyes is involved,” is a good sign that perhaps the cops should hang out in front of Reyes’ house.  They don’t, of course.  They chase the guys who have fast cars.
  • Why rebuild a car just to find out the computer in the dashboard has a chip missing.
  • The big bad guys always kill little bad guys in front of number 2.  This is not to show the number 2 he is bad.  This is to show us that he is showing the number 2 he is bad.  Any number 2 would be well aware of this by the time he reached number 2.
  • “Stick to the plan,” is code for, “it’s not even the middle of the movie.  Keep doing cool stuff for a while.”
  • The good cops always find out “something big is going down” but are powerless to do anything but linger behind.
  • For a series that is supposed to be about stealing and racing cars, it’s beginning to look a lot like Ocean’s 14.
  • Dominic (Diesel) versus Hobbs (Johnson) would be much cooler if Hobbs wasn’t a foot taller.
  • I am pretty sure that Walker’s Brian is just in the film to be the token white guy.
  • Jordana Brewster seems to be even more anorexic with the progress of the pregnancy.
  • The big fight between Rock and Diesel was totally useless, given that there were guns on everyone else at that point, but it goes on for another minute or so anyway.  Of course no one really gets hurt, or even a scar.
  • Everyone without flak jackets or armor survives the ambush, while all the tough guys in T-shirts stand in the middle of the road and kill all the snipers, leaving number 2 alive, of course.
  • “You know I can’t let you go…” means, “Have fun, I am letting you go.”

The Ugly

  • “Go walk it off!” is another way of saying, “You’re lucky my chick’s here.”  Really they just mean, save the fights for later in the film.
  • Asking a cop if she is the only cop in Rio that one can trust is not usually a good sign.
  • Too much is made about the difficulty of breaking into police stations.  It happens all the time in movies.
  • No one beats Vin Diesel’s Dom in the movie, even when they win.  He’s the producer.
  • “We’re one hour away from the rest of our lives…” means you have to do a bunch of stuff, likely taking you more than an hour.
  • It’s clichéd brother is “It’s a suicide mission,” which means everyone will make out just fine, even the cop that was just your enemy who joined your team.
Overall, it’s a good Saturday movie, even on a Monday.
(***1/2 out of *****)

Faster: In which The Rock is really pissed at a minimal rate of speed.

Faster – 2010

Directed by George Tillman, Jr.

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thorton, Carla Gugino, Tom Berenger, Moon Bloodgood, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Mike Epps

Written by Joe and Tony Gayton

There is a prologue to the movie Faster in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is getting out of prison.  He looks real hard at a picture of himself with another person, which, one could guess, is his brother.  He looks really steamed for a guy getting out of prison.  He is marched into the Warden’s (Berenger) office.  The Warden gives him a long list of helpful information about support he can get outside the bars.  Johnson says nothing.  The Warden asks if there are any more questions that he can answer.  Johnson finally says he just wants to know the direction of the door.  Then, at said door, The Rock looks out on the barren lands surrounding the prison.  No one is coming to pick him up.  So he starts to run.  On foot.  What an ironically bad way to start a movie called Faster.

Johnson, playing Driver, literally named getaway driver for a bank robbery for which he got nabbed and served 10 years.  Why and how is for you to find out, as he goes down the list of those who wronged him and shoots ’em, stabs them and sometimes shoots them again.  Some of these guys need killing.  There’s a telemarketer (hate those guys), a pedophile (really hate those guys) and a bouncer (normally don’t hate those guys, but he’s on the list, so…).

The list is one obtained from a mysterious guy with a big bouncer near the beginning of the film.  How he obtained the list is irrelevant, because we aren’t double checking the research here.  Like Vasquez said:

“I only need to know one thing: Where they are.”

People outside of the list include Billy Bob Thorton, as the crooked cop,  Carla Gugino as the good cop and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the killer.  Calling anyone “The Killer” in a movie like this is kind of redundant, as everyone seems to have more than one notch on their belt.

I could list out the clichés one by one, express a measure of disappointment that an actor with the talent (yes, talent) of Johnson keeps getting tied into below average productions made by directors like Tillman, Jr. who have done better work (the Barbershop films).  What good would it do.  There are many movies made like this every season.  They serve the same purpose for men as any of the films of Anne Fletcher (Step Up, 27 Dresses, The Proposal) would do for women.   I knew this movie was trash before I picked it up, watched it all the way through, and I enjoyed it as such.

Among the highlights of this effort is the performance of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as a Preacher with a past (like there ever is a preacher without a past).  The scene between he and the Driver is almost better than the film deserves, going a long way to redeeming them both.  I do like the hospital scene for its completeness, mixed with the back and forth phone calls between a son and his father’s killer.  I sincerely wish Gugino had more of a presence in the film, as too much Billy Bob is never as good a thing as he thinks it is.

I am not sure how many more movies like this Johnson will make before he finds the director to utilize his considerable talent as well as mitigate his action hero size.  His eyes are remarkably revealing when compared to, say, Charles Bronson.  If his gamble with Richard Kelly on Southland Tales  would have worked, he might be on his way to Samuel L. Jackson territory.  For now, he will mix in sequels to block busters with action trash and the occasional experiment.  Here’s hoping he makes it.

By the end of the film, after a gunfight, my wife asked me why they called the movie Faster.  I couldn’t tell her.  Maybe they were trying to cash in on the title of his next film.