“The Fate of the Furious”
The title says it all. “The Fate of the Furious.” What is the fate of the furious? Hypertension? The title is deeply stupid, but more than stupid. It’s straight-faced stupid. It’s stupidity as done by people who are consciously aware they’re doing it and who have higher purpose, which is to raise stupidity to such a scale that it becomes epic, bold, glorious and confounding.
This series is back. We know it from the first moments: Dominic (Vin Diesel) is ambling around Havana with a big smile on his face — Diesel has become the most smiley action hero since Douglas Fairbanks. He mediates a dispute between his nephew and some local tough guy by proposing that he, Dominic, race the tough guy in cars through the streets of Havana.
The screenplay doesn’t even try to make sense of the proposal. It comes out of nowhere, apropos of nothing. But then comes the race, and it’s as good as any you could hope for. The villain is driving a hot rod. Dominic is in a beater, but he has hooked a tank of nitrous oxide to the engine. So the good news is that his car will go fast, and the bad news is that his car will definitely explode. The entire scene is ridiculous and crazy, inventively conceived and impeccably executed, so that even as you’re laughing at it, you’ll probably be on the edge of your seat.
This is a major strength of this movie, starting from this scene and continuing through the finish: The action is not just big — big is easy. It’s creative. It’s choreographed. It’s unexpected and delightful. It’s lots of fun and a stark contrast to the previous film, “Furious 7,” which was huge but flat, just commotion without inspiration.
The series has also recovered from the self-seriousness of the previous installment, which was probably inevitable given that co-star Paul Walker, who was in the original “The Fast and the Furious” from 2001, died midway through filming. “Furious 7” was rendered maudlin and creepy, as a computer-generated Walker kept turning up in scenes, smiling like he wasn’t really there — because he wasn’t.
Now the series can go back to its true, silly nature. We meet Dominic, happy and smiling through life, enjoying a vacation with his wife (Michelle Rodriguez). But then — oh no — Cipher shows up, an international terrorist in the form of Charlize Theron, and she has something on Dominic, some kind of major leverage. We don’t know what it is, but next thing you know, Dominic has turned his back on his crew. He’s doing unexplainable and atypical things, such as stealing the nuclear codes from the Russians.
It’s probably best to say it as one blanket statement, so as to not keep repeating it: Nothing makes sense here. Nothing. Cipher is supposed to be a genius, but she forces Dominic to work for her, the one man who can tank her operation. The Americans and the Russians are threatened by a dangerous terrorist, and so they leave the fate of the world in the hands of Dominic’s old crew, a bunch of racing enthusiasts. The list could go on and on, but the point has been made.
Fortunately, “The Fate of the Furious” reaches the point where absurdity becomes a virtue. For example, for the big finish Dominic’s old crew has to be outfitted with new cars. So what does the government do? Supplying them with custom-made cars would be too easy. Instead the crew is taken to a secret warehouse that holds every car ever confiscated from a drug dealer. Yes, in the world of this movie, drug dealers are the ultimate curators of automotive excellence.
About 70 minutes in, “The Fate of the Furious” slows down, and it seems as though it might never pull itself out. And then it does. The last half hour is nutty and completely satisfying. To be too specific would spoil things, so let’s just say that it involves a chase between a handful of cars and a submarine. No, you don’t need to read that sentence again. A handful of cars are chasing a submarine. You heard it here first.
One more important point. Not everyone will notice this, because not everyone will recognize the cultural significance, but “The Fate of the Furious” constitutes a breakthrough for bald men. Four of the heroes — Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson are hair-free.
And the villains? They have full heads of hair. It’s gross.