Review: Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham Shine By Mixing Heroism with Comic Relief in The Fate of the Furious

Jason Statham as Deckard and Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs in The Fate of the Furious

Jason Statham as Deckard and Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs in The Fate of the Furious

It should be noted that The Fate of the Furious is a completely preposterous movie, and that is exactly how it should be. The appeal of the series has always been the fantastic feats that its various stars accomplish while driving, no matter how ridiculous and impossible those feats may be. There is no pretense at realism here, only the promise and fulfillment of cool action sequences and a great time.

The Fate of the Furious is the first film in the series after the death of Paul Walker (Although the late actor was lucky enough to miss the least of the series, Tokyo Drift.), but otherwise most of the main cast returns, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel and Luke Evans. It is, as Diesel’s Dominic Toretto reminds the audience constantly, a family affair, even if half of the characters despise one another for reasons that even those well-versed in the series have likely forgotten.

Joining the fun for this installment are Scott Eastwood as Walker’s replacement as the white-bread hunk who is always a bit out of place, and Charlize Theron as the cyber-terrorist villain who has plans for world domination. Gone are the days when the stakes of the series were relatively low; few would have predicted from the 2001 original that Diesel would be chasing loose nukes in 2017, but that is what the series has become.

The plot of The Fate of the Furious is never the actual point of any of the franchise’s installments, but the premise this time is that Diesel’s Dom, while on his honeymoon with Michelle Rodriguez’s resurrected Letty (Yes, remember that she died in an early film but somehow returned.), is forced to betray his squad and join Theron’s gang of terrorists. It is easy to guess that Dominic’s betrayal will never stick, but the film still offers some surprises concerning the reason behind the franchise’s good guy going bad.

The shift of Dominic from hero to villain allows Dwayne Johnson the chance to assume the role of protagonist, and it suits the film better. Diesel is known for his tough-guy scowl, bald pate and bodyguard’s thick physique, but that is sometimes all he can offer. The artist formerly known as the Rock does the same, but with 50 pounds more muscle, boundless charisma and, most importantly, the ability to crack a joke. Seeing the two together is like watching Lindsay Lohan act opposite Emma Stone and watching a promising but limited performer be outshone by an actual superstar. It is no wonder that Diesel reportedly clashed with Johnson on set. It must burn Diesel to be so outmatched, and it shows in his performance, which seems glum and practically constipated even when it should not.

The Fate of the Furious is at its best when it embraces the inherent silliness of the series. The films are always earnest (If the characters aren’t driving, they’re talking about how important family really is.), but they are at their best, at their lightest and most playful, which is almost always when Johnson and Statham are on screen. Johnson uses his cartoonishly towering stature to great effect, and Statham is a natural comedian, as the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy proved. Statham cracks jokes as well as he cracks heads, and the movie’s best sequence doesn’t find him driving a car, but holding a baby while taking down bad guys. It may not have the scope of dozens of cars chasing through New York City, but the scene is so well-choreographed and Statham so good at mugging at the camera that the scene is impossible to resist.

More than a decade ago, F. Gary Gray directed another elaborate car chase thriller, The Italian Job, and the same skills that served him well on that film do so here. The franchise has never been one for directors to make a signature mark, but it is perfect for talented journeymen like Gray. He knows how to make the endless car chases seem novel and obey at least some laws of physics. The Fate of the Furious delivers exactly what people expect from the franchise, and sometimes more, thanks to Johnson’s and Statham’s ability to mix action heroism with comic relief.

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The Fate of the Furious
Universal Pictures
In theaters April 14

3 Stars

Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).

Jeremy Ross is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering entertainment.

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