The eighth installment in the Fast and the Furious series bares little resemblance to the original film back in 2001. Fifteen years later we find Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) and Letty (played by Michelle Rodriguez) the only two characters from the first film to grace the screen in the continuing saga of product placement and hot rod muscle cars. More of the former than the latter. The only resemblance to the initial entry here is a street race in Havana, shot on location in Cuba, for what was obviously a major tax incentive. At this point, established in the fifth entry, Fast Five, the characters we have come to love are once again called upon by Uncle Sam to get involved with international espionage. Muscle cars and street racing are making way for renegades, wanted by the law, to save the world James Bond-style.
The best films in the series to date are the first film and the fifth (referenced above) but as long as profits meet or exceed expectations, Universal Studios will continue to produce them. But the cost factor is now the decision maker and will determine the fate of the next sequel. With actors, Scott Eastwood and Charlize Theron added to the cast, and returning actors Jason Statham and Kurt Russell, salaries are growing faster than rubber treads on pavement.
In this entry, Dominic Toretto has once again become a wanted man by thwarting a government attempt to retrieve an EMP device from falling into the wrong hands. His “family” of street racers suspect Toretto is being manipulated, and rightfully so. But what motivates him from betraying his country — and his family — is played out proper as the story unfolds. The plot must have looked good on paper but the director was clearly the big winner. Evenly paced and filmed with simplicity, even someone over the age of 80 can follow the story without getting lost.
The Fate of the Furious is enjoyable and may be the third best in the series, regardless of how far-fetched the storylines trend. Never mind that the characters do not need to wear hats when they are in the arctic, or the fact that most cars cannot drive with control on the ice, or that fight scenes are gratuitous to the moment we have to accept the suspension of disbelief. These are popcorn movies and they are meant to be fun. A number of laughs, a number of plot twists, a number of great action scenes… the recipe works. If you thought the laser beam from outer space and driving a car on the ice in the Bond film Die Another Day was ludicrous, wait until you see Ludacris (the actor/rapper) driving on the ice as he and his companions combat heat-seeking missiles and a Russian submarine. No scars, no bullet wounds, no hypothermia when one of them plunges into the water and is pulled out, revealing how dry he is moments later with no explanation.
My only gripe is product placement that has never been so obvious than the last Transformers movie when Mark Wahlberg picked up a blue bottle of Bud (following a gratuitous Budweiser truck spilling bottles all over the road) and drinking it for no apparent reason. Here, Dwayne Johnson tells an arch rival that he will beat on Jason Statham’s ass “like a Cherokee drum.” Funny until later in the movie when one wonders if that was scripted deliberately so that a “Grand Cherokee” does not go unnoticed later in the movie when the name of the product appears in a two-second close-up. It costs money to have products on the silver screen. It costs more money to have the product name appear on the screen as Chrysler obviously shelled out.
With a deliberate demonstration of automobile luxury with voice activated remote control, and yet another Hollywood movie incorporating a scene that takes place in New York’s Times Square, product placement was so evident that I wonder if anyone in the world does not use an Apple product. But if box office dollars will determine the fate of these Furious movies, product placement may be the only salvation to offset rising production costs. Filming in Havana and in Georgia were obvious cost-cutting measures to help sweeten the pot. Still, if my wife has to lean over one more time and remark “yeah, right” following an action scene that breaks the natural laws of physics, maybe it is time this series is put to bed.
Unlike the last few movies in the franchise, there is no post-credits sequence after the movie. When the credits start to roll, you can leave.