“F9,” the 10th entry in the never-ending “Fast and Furious” series — counting the spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” — is a big summer movie, one the industry is pinning its hopes on for bringing people back inside theaters starting Friday.
Viewers are going to have to be in a forgiving mood.
Fans are used to looking past the series’ ridiculousness, braggadocio and soap opera-dramatics to get to the good stuff: chases, fights and explosions.
“F9” does deliver the goods in a handful of scenes, and a few truly impressive, mind-blowing stunts. But then there’s the other 80% of a 145-minute movie to contend with.
Directed by Justin Lin, in his fifth outing in this series (he was also behind numbers 3-6), the movie focuses on Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his dark past.
Beginning with a flashback to 1989, young Dom cuts his racing teeth helping his race-car driver father. Something goes terribly wrong during a race, and Dom and his younger brother Jakob have a huge falling-out. That might have been enough information to fuel what little plot there is here, but the flashbacks continue throughout the movie.
Forward to present day, and Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living peacefully in a remote farmhouse, raising Dom’s son.
(It was revealed in Part 8, “The Fate of the Furious,” that Dom had a son he never knew about from a previous dalliance. Though these movies may be dumb, viewers have to be fairly familiar with their extensive lore.)
The peace is interrupted quickly, when Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrive.
They bring a garbled, twitchy video message from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). (Why does malfunctioning video only look like that in the movies?)
Apparently, someone is after a doomsday device called Project Aries. Two halves of the device must be obtained, followed by a secret key that activates them.
The team heads out to find the first half, leaving behind the small child with apparently no one watching him. (There may be an explanation for this, but it’s sillier and stranger than one would dare imagine.)
Following a huge chase scene — including an amazing segment involving a rickety rope bridge — the modern-day Jakob (John Cena, making his “F&F” debut) snatches the first piece of the device and drives off.
As in every “must collect the three pieces of a thingamajig” story, the bad guys get the doomsday device working, and then it’s up to our heroes to stop it, preferably as the final, world-ending upload gets to around 99.9%.
The task involves two team members going where no F&F team member has gone before: into space, making for another of the movie’s precious few, super-cool scenes.
Along the way, there are many chases. In the last entry, “The Fate of the Furious,” filmmakers cooked up crazy things, including a wrecking ball whooshing through city blocks and thwacking cars off the road, and a chase between motor vehicles and a submarine!
In “F9,” most of the chases involve high-powered electromagnets, which, mounted in the backs of various vehicles, pull parked cars in front of moving cars, or yank metallic objects out of store windows as the heroes pass by.
It’s fun for a while, and the stunts are varied at first. But the basic idea is repeated again and again.
And in a smaller, martial arts fight inside an apartment, Lin falls back on his old jerky, twitchy camerawork that creates rather than suggests chaos.
The “family” theme here concentrates on Dom and Jakob’s conflict, which is predictable and overly serious. Cena displays none of his natural humor, and Diesel has an unvarying grim expression on his face throughout.
In other “family” stuff, past cast members reappear — Cipher (Charlize Theron), Queenie (Helen Mirren), and Sean (Lucas Black), among others — only for audience recognition purposes.
But recognizing characters and feeling them are different. Perhaps this franchise’s DNA is the problem. In the beginning, the films were nothing but characters trying to out-cool and out-swagger each other. Perhaps that fear of being uncool lingers.
Maybe the filmmakers feared that being silly or honest is the antithesis of cool, when the opposite is true. If “F9” mustered the courage to acknowledge its ridiculousness, it could have roared off into the sunset, not sputter out.
F9: The Fast Saga
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena, Jordana Brewster
Written by: Justin Lin, Daniel Casey
Directed by: Justin Lin
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes