F9 (2021)

Justin Lin directs Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and John Cena in this action adventure where Dom learns the true meaning of FARM-LEE.

How to judge a franchise that delivers the action, the critics hate and has mutated from an average car racing flick to mega budgeted summer mainstay? Does anyone actually love these characters and this very specialised milieu? Or do we watch them as we would a car wreck? Passing the mangled carnage, expecting the inevitable and slightly repulsed by the human toll? Big cars go vroom vroom, physics are name checked but routinely spat on, here’s another character with a flashback that seems to mean something to someone. Don’t forget the obligatory shot of “bitches” dancing around a car park!

This entry emphasises a lot of worst elements of an F&F sequel but rarely hitting the sweet spot that The Rock, The Stath and CGI ridiculo-scale brought to the better entries. It is the release that finally takes the rag tag hangers on into outer space… just don’t expect anyone you care about to be doing doughnuts and wheelies on the moon in a souped up space buggy. The intergalactic section is less Moonraker-inspired finale more extended side mission for the two regulars in the ensemble you always question the necessity of. In a strange way, that little orbit sequence defines this movie. A moment of overlong excess ruined by bludgeoning exposition, idiot humour and populated by the F-Team. I understand the first two elements are there as the writers correctly assume most of us in the audience are drooling knuckleheads but the sidelining of the bigger names proves continually unforgivable here.

OK… so I concede we have lost Paul Walker. The THEs have flexed their muscles and charisma to spin off away into the Hobbes & Shaw universe. Which leaves us with a whole lotta third rung faces who seemingly couldn’t get along with The Rock and can’t open a movie on their own. Sure, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren and Kurt Russell are cameoing about in the background but these little legacy moments are swamped by the sheer amount of returning characters who the casual viewer of the soap opera with socket wrenches will struggle to name. I’ve seen 8 out of 10 of these at the cinema and I found myself asking too many questions. Wasn’t he dead? Is that what the kid from American Gothic looks like now? Has Cardi B been in this before? Am I even sure I know who Cardi B is in any plane of unreality?

Entire acts go by that you forget lynchpin and top billed Vin Diesel was even in. The plot splits the “family” up, gives everyone but him their own globe trotting task and it often feels like the whole endeavour has been built around an unspoken agreement that he would only be available for a quarter of the shoot. The Edinburgh chase sequence is conspicuous for both its lack of geographical veracity (I’m a local – shoot me!) and the fact that Dom Toretto suddenly appears as it is winding down, the camera and edit only focussing on him once we’ve grown bored of seeing the comedy sidekicks in the driving seat. Most of the meat of his… I’m looking for the right words but can only think of… emotional arc are handled in flashbacks to 1989. Rather than de-age Riddick digitally the producers have cleverly cast an upcoming actor and had ol’ gravel voice dub him. The conceit works well, these scenes evoke Days of Thunder, the first movie and Shakespeare… but again… it appears like the franchise’s big name got a week off rather than add any anchoring presence to all this formless mess. I’m trying my best not to type the sentence “I wanted and expected a lot more Vin Diesel in this film.” Nobody should have to make such a bold revelation. It ain’t all bad, with Dom working flexi, the always watchable Michelle Rodriguez as Letty gets a bit more spotlight. And never before mentioned, long lost brother John Cena makes a decent fist of the villain – who you know will return as reluctant hero next episode. Side note: He’d make a great Fred Flintstone if they ever do another live action remake of that cartoon again.

Which leaves us with the slam and the bang. You’ve seen the best bits in the trailer. It is all a bit top heavy and front loaded. After land mines are raced through, a car is caught mid air by a drone and Dom swings across a precipice on a bit of old rope the stunt team give up on trying to top things. That’s 20 minutes in. There’s just too many mouths gasping for their subplot, flashback, comedy moment for the script to find room for more than three further action beats. The Edinburgh chase involves powerful magnets being switched on and off, as does the endless truck finale. That feels very rubbery and undercooked in the wake of Tenet’s similar moving heist. In a world were the metal bonnets of speeding cars are the only safe space to land you can’t expect any real danger or consequences. Wouldn’t want them! But a smidge more imagination about what “OTT” could be isn’t too much to ask. Previous entries dragged room sized safes around Rio and jumped the submarine, this movie seems happy trundling along until the baddies’ moving base just gives up and falls apart on a side street. Poor. Lowest common denominator spectacle should not be this habitual.

4

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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