Review: ‘F9’ is F’n Nuts
Zzzrp Zzzrrp Zzzrrp! Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) are cruising in a Pontiac Fiero, riding above a big ass jet at a super high altitude with rocket boosters strapped to their vehicle, as one does. Tej spots a hole in his yellow rubber suit and immediately fixes it with duct tape. “You’re acting like you’re on your way to Home Depot,” Roman snips, while (albeit rationally) expressing his concerns that their slightly modified deep sea diving gear isn’t designed for what they’re about to do. But Tej assures him it’ll work, “You might blow up a little, that’s all.” Concerns aside, the exchange is rather casual despite the fact that they’re about to pull off an irrationally bonkers, batshit crazy and outright ludicrous ACME rocket stunt that requires physics only quantifiable in a Warner Bros. cartoon. But then again, what’s to worry? This is “F9”, the ninth installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise (tenth if you count whatever “Hobbs & Shaw” was), even if Tej and Roman die, the producers will surely find a way to bring them back in “F11”. And with that, Roman hits the Nos button and the two former street racers, now spies detach from the plane and bast off into space in order to crack a satellite that must be hacked in close range, for reasons.
It’s hard to believe that when the series began, twenty years ago as of this year, that the biggest stunt was a Honda Civic racing under a semi-truck. “The Fast and the Furious”, a sleeper hit back in 2001, seems so small and grounded in comparison to its later sequels. Back then, as old memes will surely remind you, it was about a gang of street racers, led by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, stealing shipments of VCRs and those little tiny box TVs. Since then, the trajectory of the series has evolved from drug dealers to daring heists, tanks, international spies, submarine battles, genetically-enhanced super soldiers, and now a voyage to outer space.
But the “Fast & Furious” series has also evolved in another way, as it transcended from movies with forcibly “cool” titles about characters who drive fast cars and act tough, talk tough to intentionally ironic feel-good summer capers about a ragtag group of friends who are like, dramatic pause, “family.” Yes, it’s true you could play a very dangerous drinking game centered around the amount of times Diesel says the word “family” in these films, but the fellowship and camaraderie of these characters is the most enduring part of this speed demon franchise, and perhaps the reason why the most recent sequels are genuine guilty pleasures rather than bonafide trash heap.
While previous entries have focused on Dom’s surrogate family (save for “The Fate of the Furious”, which introduced his baby boy, Brian Toretto, who is conveniently sidelined in this film), “F9” deals with his literal family, pitting Toretto against his prodigal brother, Jakob (John Cena). Dom and Jakob had a bit of a falling out after their father’s death (a backstory told in the original “The Fast and the Furious”, now seen in a series of flashbacks, with a few extra details and a young actor who looks nothing like Vin Diesel). In the real world, Jakob would be just some guy living near Milwaukee and working at Auto Zone, and the two would simply reconnect on Facebook after years of not talking to each other. But no, Jakob is now a dangerous super-spy and the Torettos’ way of “reconnecting” is smashing each other’s faces through walls.
Of course, Jakob has gone rogue and is seeking to obtain a device called Aries, a fancy-schmancy gizmo can hack into any satellite, especially defense satellites, and be used to “reset the world order” (or hold it hostage), a MacGuffin which kind of, sort of brings to mind the “World Code” from “Escape From L.A.”, a movie that happens to star “Fast & Furious” alumni Kurt Russell. Coincidence? I think probably. But I digress, this super powerful gizmo has been split in two by Russell’s elusive Mr. Nobody and also requires a passcode to work. Thus requiring a globetrotting race that sparks one high concept set piece after another, in which the characters use their signature fast cars like disposable razors against the added obstacles of land mines, high velocity super-magnets, and yes, zero gravity.
There is a line from “Fast Five”, arguably the best of the bunch, that best describes “F9”: “This shit just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission: In-Freakin’-Sanity.” “In-Freakin’-Sanity” is right. “F9” goes as far as to bring a fan favorite character back from the dead, with a cockamamie story to boot, and somehow that is the most mundane thing to happen in the movie. I guess surviving a car crash is small beans compared to a Dodge Charger swinging from a rope like Tarzan?
So where does the “Fast & Furious” franchise go from here? I mean, seriously, once you’ve gone to space, you’ve done it all and therein lies the problem, you can only up the ante so much. Short of going to Mars and adding UFOs to the mix, there’s not much Dom and his crew could do to top themselves. Perhaps they can go back in time and team Vin Diesel up with a Vin Diesel from the 70s, who has a full head of hair and a groovy mustache or maybe they can shrink themselves really small and go inside someone’s body like “Fantastic Voyage” but with cars? Or perhaps they can get in on this Multiverse kick that the Marvel and DC film franchises are currently into and pit Dom against a Dom from another universe, who is evil and looks like Timothy Olyphant? Of course, you might also be quick to note that there has been some talk, mostly by fans, nothing serious, of crossing the franchise over with “Jurassic World”, but somehow I don’t see Steven Spielberg signing off on such a project. (For those who remember, Sony had seriously considered crossing “21 Jump Street” over with another Spielberg-produced series, “Men In Black”, but the project died a quiet death behind the scenes.)
But really, there is only place “The Fast and the Furious” should go and that’s back to Earth. If you recall another series went to space, James Bond back in 1979 with “Moonraker”, and quickly followed it with a more traditional, better-received entry, “For Your Eyes Only”. Likewise, Toretto and his “family” should get back to the basics, or at least back to when four cars dragging a bank vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro was impressive enough.