Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
A big, dumb Fast & Furious movie where you can clearly see what happens in (most of) the action scenes is still a big, dumb Fast & Furious movie.
The upgrade of Hobbs & Shaw’s high-quality, visually crisp stunt work is a welcome addition, and also expected with David Leitch (Atomic Blonde; Deadpool 2) behind the camera — easily the best director this shoddy series has lured into its cash-filled lair.
But couldn’t the spin-off film about titular alpha male opposites/rivals Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have received an upgrade in the script department as well?
Perhaps such thoughtfulness would be too much to ask of series scribe Chris Morgan — who’s written every F&F film since the third installment, Tokyo Drift — and might alienate the millions of viewers who appreciate the specific brand of meatheadedness these flicks have delivered roughly every other year for nearly two decades.
The latest mindless adventure finds Hobbs’ MI6 sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, Mission: Impossible - Fallout) on the run, framed for a crime she didn’t commit with, oh, just an unactivated virus of global genocide proportions in her bloodstream.
With her suave brother and his American battering ram nemesis in pursuit before man/machine hybrid Brixton (a thoroughly badass Idris Elba) can reclaim his masters’ nefarious weapon, Hobbs & Shaw’s grandiosity extends to its multiple impressive fight scenes, courtesy of Leith’s John Wick expertise.
Thrilling still is a stunning chase through the London streets where Brixton and his motorcycle display their dexterity, while the scale of the climactic ground-and-sky showdown on Hobbs’ home Samoan turf is impressive in ambition and creativity alone.
The film’s theme of mass media manipulation is a nicely relevant addition, and the suddenly almost worn-out trend of villains who seek to make the world a better place by reducing its population likewise just barely works — yet the vehicle for these concepts is some of the worst dialogue and storytelling in modern blockbusters.
Similar to Tyler Perry’s punishing barrage of “jokes” occasionally producing a laugh, the chemistry-rich leads’ stream of insults yields a few chuckles, though the same can’t be said for excruciating scenes with CIA agents Locke (Ryan Reynolds, achieving his New Year’s Resolution of destroying the goodwill he’s built since he started making solid movies in the mid-2000s) and Loeb (Rob Delaney, Amazon’s Catastrophe).
Not helping matters is a pointless appearance by Helen Mirren as the Hobbs siblings’ incarcerated mother, but the wasting of her talents is balanced out by a fun Eddie Marsan as an AWOL scientist and another surprise cameo also mostly works, but is far from hilarious.
Also, captivating as Elba is, it’s troublesome to cast one of the film’s two dialogue-speaking black actors as the villain. And rousing as it is on a visceral level, the extravagant finale raises more questions than answers — perfect for a new goddamn set of films following these characters.
At least Vin Diesel’s Dom isn’t involved. Yet.
Grade: C. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Universal Pictures)