Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Alternate Title: F9
USA/Thailand/Canada, 2021. One Race Films, Roth/Kirschenbaum Films, Perfect Storm Entertainment, Original Film, Universal Pictures. Story by Justin Lin, Alfredo Botello, Daniel Casey, Screenplay by Daniel Casey, Justin Lin, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson. Cinematography by Stephen F. Windon. Produced by Vin Diesel, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Justin Lin, Neal H. Moritz, Joe Roth, Clayton Townsend, Samantha Vincent. Music by Brian Tyler. Production Design by Jan Roelfs. Costume Design by Sanja Milkovic Hays. Film Editing by Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto.
A few years have passed since the last adventure, and Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living a quiet live in the countryside raising his young son; of course, we know that this can only last so long before yet another doomsday device falls into the wrong hands and they have to get into dangerous car races to set things right. Old friends show up on their remote and secret farm to tell the couple that they’re needed to once again save the world, this time from a snotty German ambassador’s son who is going after a mechanism that can take control of every weapons system on the planet (somebody paid to have that made?) The troupe head to Mexico where a plane crash contains half of the device, and then must split up and head to Tokyo, Edinburgh and eventually Tblisi to stop the bad guy from getting the other half of the machine and effectively becoming emperor of Earth. This time, though, there’s an extra complication that our grumbling hero hadn’t counted on: the villain is being aided by Dom’s estranged little brother (John Cena), who has carried their childhood rivalry for their late father’s affections into maturity and is now using it to threaten the safety of humankind. The chases are exciting, the near-fatal stunts are thrilling and most of the crew’s brushes with death wholly, ridiculously unbelievable, and if that’s not appealing enough, there’s the fact that two of the cast drive a car into outer space (I’m not kidding). This franchise practically demands your suspension of disbelief at gunpoint, gleeful in its outrageous scenarios that make for the perfect antidote to the self-righteous and antiseptic “imagination” of Marvel movies (in which everyone is hot and powerful and just sits around looking worried), giving us instead an unbounded imagination that only induces more pleasure the more it indulges in reckless folly. Where this chapter falters is in leaving behind elements from the last entry that gave it a lot of gleam, for while Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson provoke plenty of familiar laughs, the absence of The Rock, who always balanced Diesel’s D.O.A. dialogue delivery with his own shameless joviality, and the plucky charms of Jason Statham and Luke Evans are sorely missing and cannot be compensated for by Cena, who is as dull an actor as Diesel but with far less charisma (and darkening his eyebrows to make him look like someone with the last name Toretto is almost as funny as some of this movie’s craziest stunts). Helen Mirren returns and is given some wild driving to do, but for some reason is directed in her chase sequence to not move one bit in her seat and isn’t at all convincing behind the wheel, while Thue Ersted Rasmussen as Otto is the weakest villain in the series, making us regret that the flashy villain from the last film, played with unapologetic venom by Charlize Theron, spends most of the movie trapped in a tiny glass box (don’t ask how she pees, maybe you don’t want to know).