F9: The Fast Saga

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F9: The Fast Saga is dumb and preposterous, even by this franchise's standards. They really jumped the shark, and that's not easy to do, given how over-the-top the previous entries were. The problem with making such intentionally outrageous action movies is that you eventually get to the point where your efforts to out-do yourself just lead to inanity. That is certainly the case here. By the time Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges crafted a homemade space shuttle out of a Pontiac Fiero and blasted off into space, I'm pretty sure my eyes rolled all the way into the back of my head.

As seems to be the case with these pictures, the plot is needlessly convoluted. The important part is that Jakob Toretto (John Cena) is a world-class driver/superspy. He's been tasked with obtaining a powerful device with the ability to control the world's electronic devices, or something like that. The only one who can stop him is his estranged brother, Dom (Vin Diesel), who of course is also a world-class driver/superspy. What are the odds? Dom and the gang reunite to get the device out of Jakob's hands.

My issue with the Fast & Furious pictures (aside from the original) is that while the action is fun, the stories are dull. F9 strives to bring back characters from all the previous installments, which only serves to slow the plot down. In addition to frequent flashbacks that reveal the source of the Dom/Jakob feud, Han (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift returns, necessitating flashbacks to show how he survived an apparent explosion in an earlier film. Then Helen Mirren comes back for a cameo. Charlize Theron, the villain from The Fate of the Furious, is also back for a few scenes. Rather than telling a straightforward story, F9 looks for ways to cram all these elements in, leading to a bloated 145-minute running time.

In terms of action, the movie begins with an insane chase through a minefield and across a rickety bridge that defies physics and gravity. (The sequence is given away almost in its entirety in the trailer.) That's far-fetched, but also what people come to The Fast Saga for. Same goes for a car race and a couple of elaborate brawls. The best part is a recurring bit involving powerful electromagnets, which Dom and crew install in their vehicles to give them an advantage in fighting Jakob. When a car can attract and repel other cars as they're moving, the potential for the good kind of craziness is high. To its credit, F9 capitalizes on the idea well.

Then come the last forty minutes. Aside from the Fiero going into space, the movie offers absurd sights as characters impossibly jump from one moving vehicle to another, flip a massive transport truck, and do battle with a gigantic drone. It's a little too much too-much. Particularly with that outer space bit, F9 reveals that the saga now requires full-throttle outlandishness in order to top what the previous chapters have done.

I'd argue that the need to go that far is detrimental. There's only so much a viewer can swallow. At some point – and F9 reaches it – the approach stops being entertaining and becomes stupid. Sitting in a theater seat noticing the heights of stupidity a movie has achieved is not the same as willfully suspending disbelief. Where will the next sequel have to go to top this one? Back in time? To Mars? Into the Earth's core?

The Fast & Furious franchise has been stretching credibility for years now. With F9, they've finally stretched it to the breaking point.

out of four

F9: The Fast Saga is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes.