2019 | rated PG-13 | starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Cliff Curtis | directed by David Leitch | 2 hrs 17 mins |
It has been a lot of fun watching The Fast and the Furious franchise grow up over the last 20 years. It’s wild to think this Rob Cohen guilty pleasure booty-shaking street racing movie fell into it’s groove 5 movies in and became the world’s go-to source for big, blockbuster car-fu action and outrageous globe-trotting spy adventures. I’m a defender of the series, Fast Five and forward, for delivering a purely fun modulated alternative between Michael Bay/Peter Berg aggressive quick-cut action and the cartoonish beat-em-up battles of many Marvel films. It’s now so grown up, it’s having it’s own offspring. Fast and the Furious is presenting Hobbs and Shaw, a spin-off of two of it’s tough-guy characters, Interpol agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and English criminal Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). It’s a big, very goofy movie, loosely put together, not particularly exciting and painfully unfunny. Instead of riding a ride, it’s like someone just spinning you around and insisting that you’re having fun.
Hobbs and Shaw is the mile Fast and the Furious took when we gave them a few inches. It’s designed to be a fun machine, as aggressively committed to forcing it’s actors to improvise and refusing to cut around the duds as any Transformers movie and as cartoonish as the most cartoonish superhero movie. Shockingly the film is directed by David Leitch, who gave us the opposite of this kind of action movies with John Wick and Atomic Blonde (plus the hilarious Deadpool 2). By time a cybernetic super-soldier, The Rock jumps out of a window to catch him while trading quips with Statham on the way down, we’re a long way from calling dragging a safe through Rio absurd. Hobbs, despite every indication that it is part of the Fast and Furious universe goes off into full blown Terminator science fiction.
Idris Elba (who shows up immediately in the first scene, no time for villain build up) plays Brixton Lorr, a bulletproof, half-robot, cyber-enhanced super soldier previously killed by Shaw rides his transforming motorcycle into a heist and tries to steal a virus that we’re told is a global killer that will melt your organs. The virus is smuggled out by Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby, The Crown, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) when she injects herself with it. Soon her brother Declan is out to save her and the US government enlists their best – Hobbs – to partner up with him and go to war to save the world. “Go to war” and “save the world” are used a lot in this movie, Kirby’s character is named one letter shy of “Hottie” and Brixton calls himself the Black Superman probably because Chris Morgan and his punch-drunk band of Fast and Furious writers concluded nobody would recognize a Six Million Dollar Man reference. I would guess.
Maybe I completely lost the plot here, but it’s not really clear how virus works. Hattie injects herself with it, suffers no side-effects, but acts as a carrier and will either release it or stop it if she dies. It’s also not really clear what Brixton wants with it other than ranting the usual anti-human tropes. Wipe out humans and replace them with machines? All of this craziness, macho hero worship and complete plot half-assery could have made for a really fun so-bad-it’s-good disaster. Like The Predator. It doesn’t quite get there though. It isn’t quite bonkers enough, it isn’t outrageous enough, it both thinks it is telling a story about family and is self-aware of it’s own silliness in just the wrong measures. It also never ends. The movie drags itself from LA to London to Samoa over the course of a way-too-long 2 hours and 16 minutes, most of that time feels like it is sucked up by Ryan Reynolds as Hobbs’ handler improvising his way through the longest cameo in movie history. It can’t be understated how unfunny the movie is. This is a movie that thinks what we all came to see is The Rock and Statham trade insults and all of the one-liners are terrible. Long, labored, broad and random. Hobbs does a monologue about how Shaw’s voice bothers him. Shaw does a monologue about how looking at Hobb’s face is like “God projectile vomiting right into his eyes and it burns”. Ugh, it’s cringing. It sets up a brawn vs brains dynamic and then settles it with (spoiler) brawn. Brawn is better.
Every once in a while Hobbs remembers it’s Fast and Furious lineage and throws in a car chase or a shot of garage lights flicking on one by one to reveal rows of sports cars. Fast and the Furious is wonderfully shameless, but even it feels subtle compared to the themes stretched thin and broad here. The surrogate family of Fast gives way to stories about Shaw’s sister and mom behind bars and Hobbs abandoning his brother (Cliff Curtis) and momma. There is only text, no subtext, there is nothing just shown that isn’t told over and over. This movie really thinks it is saying something about two guys who hate each other, and who live lives so different – but so similar. We know that because we see it in split screen. And that is not despite, but with a very low bar for storytelling I expect from this movie. I don’t expect it to make sense, but I do expect it to be fun.
Hobbs and Shaw is a big studio turkey tossed out for us to chew on until Fast 9. It’s what you get when a franchise earns a billion dollars and then is let loose with a spin-off with unchecked stupidity. Dwayne Johnson has resurrected many a franchises and impossible reboots with his own brand of charm, charisma and comic delivery – including this very franchise. Yet even he can’t save Hobbs and Shaw from becoming an overindulgent cringe-fest. Throw this on his very small list of misses – right below Skyscraper.