'F9' Delivers Big, Dumb, Fun Escapism
Can Vin Diesel latest 'Fast and Furious' rescue cinemas?
"The Fast and the Furious" (2001, the first film seems almost realistic in comparison to "F9")
"Better Luck Tomorrow" (2002, Justin Lin's second feature and before Hollywood swallowed him)
"Live Free and Die Hard" (2007, where another franchise seriously goes off the rails)
"Fast Five" (2011, when this franchise went bonkers)
"Baby Driver" (2017)
"The Fast and the Furious" franchise releases its 9th entry in what it is calling "The Fast Saga." Universal Pictures hopes "F9" is the film that will reignite the quarantined afflicted box office after more than a year of cinemas being closed or operating at reduced capacity.
Cinemas have been at full capacity since June 15 but that doesn't mean they are full yet. The National Association of Theater Owners has designed a promotional campaign called Cinema Week that started on Tuesday and is meant to encourage people to "ditch their couches" and come out to a movie. I don't think it's an accident that Cinema Week was set to include the opening weekend of "F9."
Universal created a special trailer for "F9" in which Dom/Vin Diesel (they have become one and the same at this point) personally pitches "F9" as the film to get people back into cinemas. He tells us we have gone through a "year that tested us" but for 100 years movies have been our means of escape and "there's nothing like that moment when the lights go down, the projector ignites, and we believe ..."
And "F9" asks you to believe. In fact it asks you to take a leap of faith every 10 or 15 minutes as it delivers one improbability after another, one plot hole after another and simply hopes that the good faith of its fans will get them through. And in all honesty, it probably will. If you are planning to see "F9" you have already bought into the franchise and its now comic book level of reality. Actually, that is unfair to comic book movies, which in many ways seem more realistic than "F9." At least Captain America was given a super serum to explain his invincibility.
"F9" doesn’t really take us any place new but it takes the familiar "Fast and Furious" formula of family, betrayal, revenge and crazy car shenanigans and turns it up to 11 … OK, maybe 12. I was fully expecting it to be big, dumb and fun but the level of dumb literally gets taken through the stratosphere this time (yes there are cars in space and the only thing that could have made it crazier is if they met Machete in space).
Justin Lin returns to direct his fifth installment in the saga. Lin was an indie film golden boy with his personal and brilliant "Shopping for Fangs" and "Better Luck Tomorrow." But then Hollywood snatched him up. I have to give Lin credit or blame — depending how important you think it is for a film to obey the laws of physics — for using "Fast Five" to push the franchise so ridiculously over the top that your jaw just drops and you have to laugh. Some may laugh at it with snide disapproval but I see the films as so embracing their ludicrousness that I can’t help but be entertained.
Vin Diesel’s Dom is a more invincible action hero than those Marvel super soldiers. And adding to the surreal absurdity of the film is the way that Lin and Diesel seem to think that the Toretto saga is on par with Shakespearean drama. But again, the intense seriousness that Diesel invests in the role is just another level of outrageousness in the film.
This time out people come back from the dead (again, first it was Letty now it's Han, and if "Wonder Woman" ever tanks Gal Gadot will be resurrected as well), rockets get strapped to cars and we are reminded of the laws of gravity only to give them the weight of fake news. So physics may exist, but its science is strictly optional.
Ironically, "F9" edits down the title to its barest essentials while letting its run time expand to the epic lengths of Shakespearean drama. The result is that "F9" clocks in at far too long with far too much plot exposition (if we have come this far we have already bought into the absurdity so don't explain it) for a film of this silliness. But for audiences who’ve been streaming films in home theaters for more than a year, "F9" may offer the perfect mix of escapism and big screen flamboyance to lure them off their couches and into a real cinema. I can’t say "F9" is a good film but it certainly is an entertaining spectacle of extreme stunts that could put the pandemic in the rearview mirror for at least 145 minutes.