Jason Momoa has a ball getting villainous in this pedal-to-the-metal saga's new ride, which is otherwise at its best when it's all about ridiculous stunts.
May 18, 2023
If you don't believe that Fast X will be one of the Fast and Furious franchise's last films, which you shouldn't, then it's time to face a different realisation. Now 22 years old, this family-, street racing- and Corona-loving "cult with cars" saga — its own words in this latest instalment — might one day feature every actor ever in its always-expanding cast. Dying back in 2013 hasn't stopped Paul Walker from regularly appearing a decade on. He's the first of the core F&F crew to be seen in Fast X, in fact, thanks to a flashback to 2011's Fast Five that explains why the series' flamboyant new villain has beef with the usual Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3)-led faces. Playing said antagonist is Jason Momoa (Dune), who adds another high-profile name to a roster that also gains Brie Larson (Ms Marvel), Rita Moreno (West Side Story), Daniela Melchior (The Suicide Squad), Alan Ritchson (Reacher) and Walker's daughter Meadow this time around. It's no wonder that this 11th flick in the franchise (yes spinoff Hobbs & Shaw counts) clocks in at an anything-but-swift 141 minutes.
It's also hardly surprising that living on-screen life a quarter mile at a time now seems more like a variety show than a movie, at least where all that recognisable talent is involved. There are so many people to stuff into Fast X that most merely get wheeled out for their big moment or, if they're lucky, a couple. Some bring comedy (the long-running double act that is End of the Road's Ludacris and Morbius' Tyrese Gibson), others steely glares and frenetic fight scenes (The School for Good and Evil and Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves' always-welcome Charlize Theron and Michelle Rodriguez, respectively), or just reasons to keep bringing up Walker's retired Brian O'Conner (which is where Who Invited Charlie?'s Jordana Brewster still fits in). When more than a few actors pop up, it feels purely obligatory, like the F&F realm just can't exist now without a glimpse of Jason Statham's (Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre) scowl or getting Helen Mirren (Shazam! Fury of the Gods) going cockney.
Do too many drivers and offsiders spoil the Point Break-but-cars hijinks? Not completely, but the high-octane saga's jam-packed cast is now a roadblock. It certainly can't have helped screenwriter Justin Lin, the director of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, F9 and initially Fast X until leaving a week into production, and his co-scribe Dan Mazeau (Wrath of the Titans). Their script sports an overarching plot, with Momoa's Dante Reyes avenging the death of his drug-lord father five films back, but it's really about servicing the required parts. Oh-so-many folks require some screentime; all the usual heist, chase and race antics have to drop in; everyone needs to jet between the US, Italy, Brazil, the UK, Antarctica and Portugal; family must be mentioned approximately 423,000 times; and Diesel's Dominic Toretto demands a few of beats to act as if Brian is dead even though he remains alive in the series' storyline.
That's the to-do list that Lin, Mazeau, and Statham's The Transporter and The Transporter 2 filmmaker-turned-Fast X helmer Louis Leterrier tick through — and tick they do. Dom and the fam, including his abuelita (Moreno) and son Little Brian (Leo Abelo Perry, Cheaper by the Dozen), get an early backyard barbecue, waxing lyrical under the Los Angeles sun about the ties that bind. Then Roman (Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang, Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, The Invitation) go to Rome for a job that goes wrong, and ex-adversary Cipher (Theron) shows up bruised and bloody on Dom and Letty's (Rodriguez) doorstep talking about the devil. The common factor: Reyes, who has declared war on the extended Toretto brood without them knowing he exists. They should've expected him, though, given that battling family members — of past enemies and, when John Cena (Peacemaker) joined in F9 as Dom's brother Jakob, their own — is another box-checking saga staple.
Almost every newcomer to the franchise, both here and in general, is related to someone else. That's how deep the series' family values go. And yet, for a saga that started embracing its ridiculousness when Dwayne Johnson (Black Adam) jumped aboard — also in Fast Five; you can't have Diesel, Johnson and later Statham bashing their sweaty heads together without having a sense of humour about it — it plays the soap opera-esque parade of kin (and the well-known actors being them) too straight. Fast X knows how outlandish it and its predecessors are with stunts, even if no one rockets to space this time. It says cheers over Mexican beers to its established cliches as well. And it joyfully has Momoa get giddily OTT as the scrunchie-wearing, "awesome!"-spouting, Joker-esque Dante, visibly having a ball doing so. But the so-earnest-it's-playful deliriousness that should always hum through these tales of petty thieves-turned-international spies is often revved over by needing to shoehorn in another character, then another, then more, whether they've been fam since day one or they're making their debut.
It's doubtful that it's on purpose, but Fast X practises what Dom preaches, making its audience appreciate the simple things. There's nothing uncomplicated about the movie's hyper-stylised stunt choreography, with its giant pinballing bombs and reggaeton drag racing — the latter soundtracked by Daddy Yankee's 'Gasolina', of course — but the film is lighter and livelier when it strips itself down to its pedal-to-the-metal and fist-throwing basics. That's when there's an energy to now seven-time F&F cinematographer Stephen F Windon's whooshing and whirling lensing, too, especially when he's gliding through windshields while engines are purring in a Rio-set moment. Smartly, Theron and Rodriguez are gifted an impressively staged fray that screams for them to have their own spinoff. And when helicopters are being flung at each other by a Dodge Charger, it's pure dumb action-flick fun.
While those choppers are swooping and crashing, revhead-in-training Little Brian can't help exclaiming with excitement. Fast X isn't ready to usher the saga's big-screen entries into Fast and Furious: The Next Generation just yet — it will eventually, sometime after this chapter's one confirmed sequel and likely second follow-up get motoring, although animated Netflix series Fast & Furious Spy Racers got there first — but that glee is exactly what Diesel and company want their audience to share. This is a thrill ride in fits and starts, however. At its worst, including with its stop-mid-scene cliffhanger, it's franchise-extending filler that never-ending sagas like the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made the gear-grinding norm. But when Fast X pumps the gas on turbocharged vehicular lunacy rather than playing connect-the-dots and spot-the-famous-face, giving four Oscar-winning actresses too little to do and dropping in hardly surprising guest appearances, it's an entertaining-enough spin down a well-driven road.
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