New additions give 'Fast X' boost, but franchise may be running on fumes
In the last exciting installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, 2021’s “Fast 9,” the gang drove a car into space, tangled with a long-lost brother and pushed the physical limits of various vintage Dodge Chargers in far-flung locations around the globe, as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is wont to do. Since then, there have been a few external shake-ups in the "Fast" world: longtime director Justin Lin departed the franchise only a week into filming on “Fast X,” which is now being billed as part one of a three-part finale, and he’s been replaced with a franchise super fan: “The Transporter” director Louis Leterrier, who swooped in to save the day like a member of Dom’s family piloting a muscle car out of an aircraft.
But rest assured, family, in “Fast X,” the Coronas are cold, the booties are shaking and the sleeves remain optional. Leterrier, working with a script credited to Lin and Dan Mazeau, takes to his turn behind the wheel with the enthusiasm of a kid who just got a new set of toys, crashing together cars and characters excitedly, but without much sense. He clearly has a reverence for the lore of the franchise, which sprouted out of a tale of drag races and DVD player heists, but he doesn’t exhibit the restraint of Lin, which is somewhat hilarious considering the automotive antics Lin got up to in this series.
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If Leterrier is making "Fast" fan-fiction, then Jason Momoa is doing parody as the franchise’s wildly flamboyant new villain Dante Reyes. In the opening of “Fast X,” Momoa has been ret-conned into the finale of Lin’s “Fast Five,” in which Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom dragged a bank vault full of drug money belonging to Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) out of Rio de Janeiro police station with cables attached to Chargers, naturally. Dante is Reyes’ son, and now he’s seeking revenge on Dom’s family because his own was destroyed.
It must have been the head injury that turned Dante into the queer-coded bro Joker that he presents in “Fast X,” swanning about in satin blouses and scrunchies, giggling like Snidely Whiplash as he forces Dom to choose between members of his family to save, and yelling things like, “that’s awesome!” at particularly huge explosions. At one point he sarcastically refers to someone “in peril,” taunting Dom while inadvertently referring to the long history of action-adventure filmmaking. Because what is the "Fast" franchise if not “The Perils of Pauline” on steroids? If only Buster Keaton could get a load of this.
At least Momoa and Leterrier are having fun in “Fast X.” The rest of the gang seems a bit lost, scattered about the globe haplessly, getting into pointless fisticuffs with each other. Diesel seems vacant, and at this point, he is merely the vehicle to keep this franchise moving forward, staring stoically at his new family members that seemingly pop up out of nowhere, and dutifully drifting the Dodges.
Leterrier has a facility for car-based action sequences, and there’s a playful quality to the camera in the racing scenes as the camera swoops around windshields and wanders into windows to link together various close-ups of the drivers. An early sequence where Dante sends a giant bomb pinballing around Rome is somewhat delightfully silly, and of course, the signature drag race scene in Rio delivers that reggaeton-flavored “Fast and Furious” thrill that we’re seeking.
But the problems with “Fast X” exist on a more structural story level. It feels like Leterrier and Mazeau are just digging up loose familial relations and celebrity cameos and throwing characters together for the heck of it, tossing a handful of Oscar-winning actresses (count ‘em: four) in the audience’s face to create a distraction from the other weaknesses in the script. Brie Larson has all of four scenes in what is essentially a cameo appearance in a meaningless role; Scott Eastwood pops up then disappears, characters cross and double cross and then cross again, all while longtime franchise standouts Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Sung Kang are left to wander around London for some reason.
Leterrier and Momoa bring an energy and excitement to “Fast X” that juices the engine to deliver the goods that fans want. But the jumbled lore and odd treatment of characters may leave fans with more questions than answers, and wondering if the franchise is running on fumes.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some suggestive material.
Running time: 2:21