Any excitement one might have about those proposed self-driving cars currently being developed in Silicon Valley is likely to be quickly quashed while watching “Fast & Furious 8”. Hundreds of cars, their programs hacked, take off without anyone at the wheel, wreaking havoc in the busy streets of New York City. Within minutes, it’s literally raining cars from a multi-storey parking facility in the film’s most audacious set piece. Rohit Shetty, eat your heart out.
Vehicular carnage remains the big draw of this long-running franchise, but the makers of this eighth installment recognize that there are just so many ways you can blow up expensive cars before it starts to feel routine. The solution, according to the new film? Raise the emotional stakes.
So Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto, the spouter of all that bumper sticker dialogue about the importance of family, is seduced to the dark side, betraying everything he ever stood for and going up against the very friends that meant the world to him. On paper that sounds like a promising idea but Diesel, whose stony expressions seldom betray what’s going on in his head, never fully convinces you that this is anything more than just a temporary plot twist.
Director Gary F Gray lucks out by landing two Oscar winners in his cast. The always alluring Charlize Theron shows up to play ruthless hacker Cipher whom Dom aligns with. And then there’s Helen Mirren – think about it, Dame Helen Mirren in a “Fast & Furious” movie! – but I’m going to let you discover for yourself what she’s doing here.
The rest of the cast is back too including Dwayne Johnson as Agent Hobbs, who spends a bulk of his screentime in orange overalls behind prison bars (too complicated to explain!), and Jason Statham as former assassin Deckard Shaw, also cooling off in the slammer. They’re recruited by returning spook Kurt Russell to join the original team in an effort to nix whatever nefarious plans Cipher and Dom are hatching.
There’s not a lot of deviating from the trusted formula as the plot globe-hops constantly, finding newer ways to destroy cars at every stop. But it has to be said here that the franchise is definitely showing signs of running out of gas. The solution, for each time that the writers can’t come up with anything clever, cannot merely be to ‘go bigger’. No wonder a set piece in Iceland involving a submarine of all things feels overlong and a tad underwhelming.
Eight films over 16 years is a big achievement. And although “Furious 7” is one of the highest grossing films of all time, don’t forget much of that success had to do with the fact that it was the last time the fans would see Paul Walker on screen. If the franchise must continue – they’ve promised two more films before the curtains come down – it would be wise to go back and remember why the first film, all the way back in 2001, was such an unexpected hit. It’s because it had a scrappy quality to it, and a sincere heart. Both of those things are missing in “Fast & Furious 8”. And no amount of explosions and chases, however impressive, can make up for heart.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.