Spaghetti and meatballs. Homemade chicken soup. The Fast and the Furious movies.
There’s nothing like a little comfort food, not to mention comfort cinema, to help you feel good. For some moviegoers, the films of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise are as satisfying as the very best lemon meringue pie, which, for the record, is my favorite kind of pie.
Not all of the “F & F” movies are creative winners, but they are all of a piece and have thrilled fans around the world to the tune of more than $6 billion at the box office.
June marks the 20th anniversary of the first feature in the series, the one set in Los Angeles and which was actually about street racing and drug dealing. Detractors say these movies slowly lost their way as they abandoned the basics of the storyline of “The Fast And The Furious,” which opened on June 22, 2001. The films began sliding into loony espionage themes and other crazy convolutions, but the fans kept coming. No thematic contortion was too bizarre. Recurring characters disappeared for a movie or two, only to return. Some even died and came back from the dead.
True blue fans of the franchise know every twist and turn, and if they haven’t been to a movie theater since the world as we knew it ended in March 2020, they are primed to return because the new entry, “F9,” can only be seen in theaters.
“F9” follows eight previous smash hits and one spectacularly successful spinoff, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” which grossed $760 million in 2019.
Regarding “F9,” I could tell you everything that happens in it, which I would never do, of course, and you would still have difficulty following the insane screenplay written by director Justin Lin and Daniel Casey. For strangers to the series, common sense won’t exist. The plotting will diverge into occasional deep dives of incoherence. The entire point of these motion pictures is entertaining action.
How entertaining? Well, two popular characters are sent into outer space. Yep. If Abbott and Costello can go to Mars in a rocket in 1953, why can’t Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) go into the stratosphere in a Pontiac Fiero today?
While watching a thriller, have you ever thought what you’re enjoying is more James Bondian than an actual James Bond movie? That’s where we are with “F9.” Add a little bit of “Mission: Impossible,” too.
The primary character is still Dominic Toretto (a very stoic Vin Diesel). He’s happily ensconced on a farm with his no-longer deceased wife Letty (a very determined Michelle Rodriguez).
Dom has a long-lost brother named Jakob (John Cena). We haven’t heard very much about him over the years, but he shows up ready for bear. What kind of bear? World domination, of course.
It seems that dad liked Dom best and Jakob is angry and upset. There’s a device that can destroy everything digital on planet Earth, which is pretty much everything, and Jakob and his evil buddy Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) want to get their hands on it. They are prepared to destroy society with a rampaging run of ruination that takes place mostly in Europe, including Edinburgh, Scotland, a beautiful city I genuinely love.
As this action-packed caper ratchets up the antics, the oddly interesting Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the deliriously evil Cipher (Charlize Theron), the obviously no-longer dead Han (Sung Kang), and the regal Queenie Shaw (Dame Helen Mirren) all show up for their share of the spotlight.
There are also some new faces, who are apparently getting training for number ten in the series. And, in case your heart pined for her, Mia, perfectly played by Jordana Brewster, returns. For devoted fans, watching the end-credits is recommended. There’s a hint that someone from a past film, someone major, is also coming back.
Everybody in the cast hits their marks and figuratively offers a warm embrace of the meaning of family and friends to moviegoers. Are the actors and actresses cogs in a wheel? You bet they are. In fact, they’re cogs riding on four screaming wheels.
The ultimate superstars of the “F & F” films are the cars. The nuttier the thrills, the better it is for this franchise. Car chases, car crashes, car explosions, and much more tell the audience they are loved and appreciated. A shout-out is essential to the CGI artists. A very loud hurrah is a vital tribute to the amazingly talented stunt teams. Why amazingly talented? Because their seamless performances are exciting to see.
“F9” is about delivering giddy, over-the-top entertainment and on that note, it succeeds. Yes, it’s too long at 2 hours and 25 minutes. Yes, there are some dull stretches during which director Lin and writer Casey could have added some new emotional layers to the characters. Their school of filmmaking demands they not build on character traits, but rather pause for a breath between takes, and then rush in more action.
The “Fast and the Furious” franchise has a loyal following for a reason. It’s summertime. It’s movie time. It’s be surprised by something wild time. If you’ve never seen an entry in the series, you could do a lot worse than finding yourself at a showing of “F9” and enjoying the fun.
Michael Calleri reviews films for the CNHI news network. Contact him at [email protected]