“F9: The Fast Saga” is only OK. But, amid a pandemic recovery and the calming relief given by a big, loud summer movie, “OK” has officially become a synonym for “good enough.”
This movie has it all. It has space rocket vehicles. It contains enormous magnets that pull cars through buildings and out the other side. Cardi B makes an appearance. It also has a calm interlude starring franchise staples Vin Diesel (as Dominic Toretto) and Michael Rooker (as some man named Buddy), displaying two of the most growly actors alive. Maybe Nick Nolte can join the cast of “Fast & Furious 10.”
As a bonus, Justin Lin, the film’s director, and co-writer provides valuable lessons in critical race theory. Dom and the Fast & Furious crew are speeding through a landmine-infested Central American valley early on. The idea holds in practice: faster and furious wins the race against death. Another crucial race begins in Edinburgh, starring John Cena as Jakob, the villain’s henchman, and Dom. While Dom pursues from street level, Jakob ziplines over the city after stealing a vital component of the spherical luminous plot gadget known as “Project Aries.”
So much for the planet. Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) find themselves orbiting Earth in a rocket-powered Pontiac at one point in “F9” because that’s how this movie works. The clock is ticking, and they have only a few minutes to destroy a satellite that contains the secret to universal digital communication annihilation (which sounds fantastic to me most of the time) and is preferred by Charlize Theron’s Cipher. “Two ghetto dudes… in outer space,” Bridges adds. If the laugh line seems stale and/or lame, it’s worth recalling that the first “F&F” was, in part, about stealing VCRs 20 years ago. The latter “F&F” s are essentially mashups of the past 20 movies played on those VCRs, a little bit “Moonraker,” a little bit “Mission: Ridiculous.”
“F9,” co-written by Lin and Daniel Casey, drags Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) out of their wonderful off-the-grid lives with son Brian (Isaac Holtane and Immanuel Holtane) to stop the apocalypse alongside their allies. Who is the finest of the bunch? Ramsey, Nathalie Emmanuel’s returning computer hacker. She lightens the weight by just getting on with it and having fun. Sung Kang’s Han returns as well, even though he got killed off in “Fast & Furious 6,” also famously known as “Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift.” In this franchise, death is meaningless.
Much of “F9′′ takes place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, focusing on family relationships, blood feuds, and young Dom (Vinnie Bennett) and young Jakob (Finn Cole), as well as the dramatic disclosure of how their racing father met his demise. As we continuously keep hearing, family is everything here, as if we didn’t already know. And it doesn’t matter how many innocent bystanders perish in the process of keeping this family together.
For many years, it has been true that the “F&F” series is the most democratic, multiethnic franchise in modern cinema, and it is clearly better for it. The women in this film handle a good chunk of the action – not half, mind you, but enough for a couple of sequels. “F&F” has its origins in a street-racing success, but its present and future, for better or worse, rest in a universe other than Bond or Ethan Hunt. Lin isn’t hesitant to bestow superhuman skills on this old-shoe, new-gym-time, gravity-, physics-, and death-defying individuals; bodies fall hundreds of feet at high velocities onto scorching car hoods, and it’s like whatever.
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