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2 ½ (out of 4)
It only took nine successively dumber movies for the Fast and Furious franchise to eventually realize just how stupid it actually is. Even with the most rudimentary skeleton of a plot, a heavy injection of cheekiness and a competent man of action behind the camera in director David Leitch, somehow the seemly spin-off Hobbs & Shaw fails to outshine the best of the adjacent films like it seemed properly primed and poised to.
Not that this flick isn't immediately superior to a majority of the rest of the macho, metal-minded affairs. The simple onscreen marriage of The Rock and Jason Statham – the antagonistic furrowed brows of parts 5 and 7 respectively before each antagonist became an ally – adds up to more chemistry, allure, likability, what have you than any cast led by Vin Diesel. Statham doesn't extend beyond his Transporter gruffness and The Rock just plays himself as always, but their personalities properly suit the marginally sillier material. Idris Elba deserves better than his stock villain role but the esteemed actor has some appreciable fun as our bionic baddie. Leitch, the tactician behind Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and part of the original John Wick, implements at least some kind of cinematographic gravitas akin to Justin Lin's (The Conjuring, Aquaman) series-best direction in Furious 7.
And the right turn into broad laughs – not just tired quips via Tyrese Gibson – should have happened ages ago. Remember when the crux of The Fate of the Furious just two years ago was Charlize Theron threatening to murder a baby? Johnson and Statham's over-the-top personas bring about enjoyable repartee but the indication to laugh is spelled out a little too clearly given prominent supporting roles for Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart to ad-lib it up. The lighthearted direction also follows less trodden paths by reducing the fetishization of the major female players (mostly Vanessa Kirby, not the only element reminiscent of Mission: Impossible – Fallout). All I'm saying is there’s only one obligatory ass shot – the times really are a-changin'.
Still, at over two hours – the runtimes of these movie have ballooned just as fast and furiously as the budgets and 'splosions – you couldn’t have indulged in more paint-by-numbers action plotting. This "presentation" sports so many genre clichés (a mad scientist, a deadly virus McGuffin, world ending stakes, evil corporations, twisted bad guy logic and monologues) you might get whiplash. Now, having binged every Fast & Furious movie in one week awhile back, recalling the finer narrative facets of any of them would be too impossible even for Ethan Hunt. But there'd be no reason to whine about a braindead story if the action icing on top of this cardboard cake was considerably worth licking off.
Sadly, apart from a few seconds of practical exhilaration scattered throughout, Leitch’s proficiency in superbly arranged stunts and standoffs is all but lost amidst the numbing stubbornness of quick-cutting and 200 million dollars of VFX. When there is something worth mouthing “wow” for, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw usually feels the need to spoil it with gratuitous slow motion. Still, within a relative scale in quality that almost forces you to call crap palatable, on charm alone the film becomes part of the upper crust of a rather barrel-bottom-tier media property.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
It Chapter Two,
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice