2.5 stars (out of 4)
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham aren’t here for the Oscar buzz. With a super-sized screen presence, these hulking, follicle-free actors just want to crack some bones and a few tongue-in-cheek jokes. And, hey, serving up one last treat during a brutal summer wouldn’t hurt them either. They go the extra mile joining forces in Fast and the Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, a would-be superhero entry without the costumes. The movie is almost ridiculous enough to get the job done. Almost.
Sorry Sex and the City fans, this is not a spin-off featuring Miranda and Aiden. In case you’ve been ignoring the Fast and the Furious franchise for the past five years, this installment is based on the characters Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham). One is a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service; the other is a British outcast that plays by his own rules. They hate each other for reasons that don’t matter and aren’t shy about conveying their disdain.
They must put their differences aside because the fate of the world is at stake. Try to keep up: One of Shaw’s old foes has turned into an evil, genetically-enhanced cyborg. This anarchist baddie — played by Idris Elba, BTW — has gained control of an uber-virus that liquefies the human body within hours. Said virus has been implanted inside the hand of a rogue MI6 agent (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby) that just happens to be Shaw’s baby sister. Now the enemies must team up to take down this self-proclaimed “black Superman.” To do that, they’ll have to journey from London to Ukraine to Samoa. If you tell me the screenwriters settled on this plot after playing a drunken game of Scattergories, I’d believe you.
But who needs story when an entire cast is game in performing in over-the-top stunts that would make Tom Cruise jealous? The action is ramped up to the extreme, highlighted by Johnson free-falling down a skyscraper to catch Elba and Statham sliding his motorcycle underneath a semi-truck. Maybe that was Johnson too. After 145 minutes, all those scenes are melded into one CGI spectacle. And with that Fast and Furious brand name, you better believe you’re in store for car chases on steroids, as well.
Hobbs and Shaw works best when Johnson and Statham fight each other with cutting words. The punchlines are easy but hilariously effective. “I’ll have this job done while you’re still putting on your baby oil,” Shaw sneers to his rival early on. Hobbs snipes back that Shaw has short Hobbit legs with a nasal Harry Potter voice. Director David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde) corralled some friends to chime in on the barbs too. Though these stars made their names as action heroes, their quick-witted comic timing is vastly underrated.
If Leitch had left Hobbs and Shaw as a slick 90-minute action-fest, he’d have a winner. But he makes the mistake of believing that audiences want a heavy-handed warm and fuzzy message in a bloated third act. (In lazy-writing racing terms, he takes the foot off the pedal.) Hobbs is already in a race against the clock to save his new crush, not to mention save humanity for the fourth time in four years. There’s no need for him to also make amends with his estranged family while getting in touch with his heritage in Samoa. “You believe in machines,” he implores to Elba, “But we believe in people.”
Actually, we believe in fast-paced, mind-numbing summer escapism. Where’s Vin Diesel when you need him?
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw is in theaters Friday, August 2.
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