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Front Page - Friday, April 21, 2017

Critic's Corner: This is one furiously fast (and fun) family

If you’ve seen the hyper-adrenalized trailer for “The Fate of the Furious” (“F8”), you might have the wrong impression of the film. Perhaps the fights, explosions and outrageous stunts in the two-minute preview have you thinking the movie is about action.

But it’s not. It’s about the familial bond of the main characters.

To avoid any misunderstanding, the filmmakers peppered the script with the word “family.” Over and over, the characters say things like, “This is about family,” “It’s good to be back with family,” and, “Are you going to turn your back on family?”

I’m surprised there isn’t a scene in which everyone watches an episode of “Family Ties” while “We are Family” by Sister Sledge plays in the background – just to nail the point down.

I tried to count how many times someone said “family” in the movie. I stopped at around a dozen. If “F8” lacks anything, it’s subtlety.

The film also ignores the laws of physics. The stunts in these movies have become more and more preposterous. People race cars down crowded sidewalks and no one dies. Vehicles drive across a frozen lake as a submarine breaks the surface and all the ice cracks – including the ice under everyone’s tires – but no one goes under. And people get up and walk away from cars that have been flipped more times than a grilled cheese sandwich.

But what’s the point in complaining? “F8” opens with a scene in which Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel’s character) drives a flaming clunker backwards across the finish line to win a street race by a hair. The filmmakers embraced the absurdity of these movies, so audiences should, too.

I did. First-time franchise director F. Gary Gray, who was fresh off “Straight Outta Compton,” infuses the action with a lot of energy. He has good eye for how these films look and a good ear for how they sound. Gray also understands people like to see the movies they pay to watch and keeps the shakiness to a minimum. Some of the fights are hard to follow but I’ve seen worse.

So, while I wasn’t emotionally invested in what was taking place on the screen, I did appreciate the spectacle.

How could I not have fun watching Dwayne Johnson nudge a missile that’s skidding across ice with one hand as he hangs on to his speeding vehicle with the other?

The craziness doesn’t end with action. Tyrese Gibson is back for a fifth turn as Roman Pearce, one of the members of Dom’s crew and the series’ resident comedy relief. A scene in which he attempts to read Russian made me laugh out loud.

There is a story. Taking a page from every Bond film ever, the plot of “F8” involves an attempt by a female cyberterrorist named Cipher to procure a nuclear bomb. Her motivation is never made clear (Charlize Theron does her best to provide a reason for Cipher’s actions by looking intense and squeezing the word “accountability” between clenched teeth), but it does set the stage for the action, which is all that’s demanded of the scripts for these films.

Instead of counting the word “family,” I could have tallied inconsistencies. With one breath, Mr. Nobody (who I believe is a government agent) explains to Dom’s team that Cipher is impossible to track because she constantly erases her tracks on the grid. With his next breath, he tells everyone what she’s been up to.

Then there’s the bizarre change of heart everyone has for an assassin named Shaw (Jason Statham), who killed a member of Dom’s crew in cold blood in a previous film. Through circumstance, Dom’s crew and Shaw are forced to work together. Everyone starts out spewing venom at Shaw, but after Johnson’s character prints out what looks like a Wikipedia page on Shaw that commends his military service, it’s all smiles and backslaps and singing “Kumbaya.” Really?

I could list more irregularities, but then it would sound like I’m complaining.

One semi-engaging aspect of the story involves Cipher convincing Dom to betray his family and work for her. While the filmmakers keep the cards she’s holding hidden until the middle of the movie, she clearly has her foot on his neck. This sets up some fun cat-and-mouse action between Dom and his crew and gives “F8” a slightly emotional payoff.

Is “F8” a great film? No. I’m not even sure it’s a good film, even though it is well made and looks expensive. But if you give yourself over to its goofy vibe and embrace its ludicrousness, you might have fun.

“F8” won’t be the last in this financially successful but unnecessarily protracted series of films. Vin Diesel has already announced release dates for the next two installments.

While he didn’t say anything about the storylines, I’m sure about one thing: amidst the clutter and cacophony, the films will be about one thing: family!

2.5 out of four stars