Hobbs & Shaw is basically a Fast & Furious movie without Vin Diesel. Everything is the same as every other installment in the franchise. There's action that defies all known laws of physics, a shoehorned-in message about the importance of family, and, of course, a lot of cars. The sole difference is that Diesel, who has spearheaded the series from the beginning, is nowhere to be found. One suspects the star might not be too happy about the fact that his presence isn't really missed. However you felt about the others is likely how you'll feel about this spinoff, for better or worse.
Plot is never a priority in these pictures, so I'll put exactly as much care into describing the story as the film does in developing it, which is to say, very little. A deadly bio-threat could wipe out mankind. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) are recruited to take down Brixton (Idris Elba), the cyber-enhanced biker who has it. The two men hate each other. Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) helps out.
The draw of the Fast & Furious movies is crazy, over-the-top action, not intricate plotting. What Hobbs & Shaw provides is no more or less ridiculous than what any of its predecessors had. One sequence has the characters running down the side of a skyscraper. Another is a vehicle chase through the streets of London. The finale features a helicopter chained to a tow truck, both vehicles battling to control the other at high speeds. I'll admit, that last one is so stupid that I kind of enjoyed it. Director David Leitch (Deadpool 2) executes these scenes with style.
If that's all you're looking for, Hobbs & Shaw delivers the goods satisfactorily. Johnson and Statham toss off some amusing quips and beat the hell out of bad guys real good. But consider this: the best action movies have well-staged mayhem plus stories that make sense, are coherent, and draw us in. Die Hard, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Terminator 2, Mad Max: Fury Road – these and other classics strive to be more than mere “dumb fun.” They fire on all cylinders. The fact that Hobbs & Shaw, like the Fast & Furious series in general, doesn't even try for that is disappointing.
A couple cameos from high-profile celebrities have been included, perhaps to distract from the overall lack of substance. The A-listers who pop up aren't bad, they just pointlessly call attention to themselves. Hobbs & Shaw drags considerably during these times because it's halting the momentum in order to give the stars their big moments. A related frustration is how under-developed Brixton is. Elba, a terrific actor, gets shockingly little to do compared to the leads. Who needs two heroes when you don't even have a compelling villain for them to square off against?
The Fast & Furious pictures have been major blockbusters. I haven't cared for any of them outside of the original. Hobbs & Shaw at least struck me as less obnoxious than the others. Still, the movie is like cotton candy, in that it evaporates as you're consuming it and there's no sustenance.
out of four
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.