The “Fast and Furious” franchise has always been uniquely absurd in some ways, with the possible exception of the first film, which became a surprise hit 20 years ago.
In “F9: The Fast Saga”, however, the absurdity reaches a heightened level – figuratively and literally.
For the same reason, there has always been a level of self-esteem in the films that will allow the audience to simply forget about the ridiculousness and enjoy the drive, chases, accidents, and all the mayhem these elements create.
Director Justin Lin has made five of the nine films and will include the tenth on his resume with the next in the series.
In this respect, “F9” works fabulously. It’s the kind of film that is made for cinemas with huge screens, inflated THX-certified sound systems, and leaving aside any semblance of reality. And despite almost two hours and 30 minutes of running time, the film actually flies there.
It also reinforces a common theme that permeates the films – “mi familia” or family, something Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) preaches and practices. The crew of gearheads and tech geeks he has put together over the years has grown into his de facto family, and all of them endured death-defying moments at each other’s side, creating an undeniable bond that is strengthened by loyalty .
Lin, who co-wrote the script with Daniel Casey, reinforces this family theme by filling in Toretto’s backstory. We knew about Toretto’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), but we’ve never heard of little brother Jacob (played by John Cena) and there are good reasons why. Dom blamed him for her father’s death in a racing accident more than 30 years ago.
Fast forward and fate pulls Dom and the crew on another adventure when Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) goes missing and sends them information only they can decipher to save the world – of course.
At some point, Lin must have known that there can only be so many death defying, incredible stunts on the show because those brands don’t even offer the best elements in the film.
Strangely enough, the background story of the Toretto brothers is more interesting; it’s a surprising, pleasant distraction from what has become a cliché. It’s not incredibly illuminating, but it scores points for being relatable to anyone who has quarreled with a family member.
It certainly helps “F9” that it brings back its most interesting villain, Cipher (Oscar winner Charlize Theron), who continues to hold onto her teeth to play the villain. Cipher is dangerous on a playful level. Watching her attack Jacob is reminiscent of a scene in the first “Mission: Impossible” film in which Vanessa Redgrave plays with Tom Cruise as if she were a cat playing with a mouse before biting its head off. Yes, Theron’s scenes are so memorable as she enjoys her role as the heavyweight.
The same goes for Helen Mirren, who returns as Queenie who is given her own moment to shine and drive one of the charged cars in the film, all with a smile on her face.
Ultimately, the film morphs into a “quick” franchise family reunion as characters from every film – yes, even “Tokyo Drift” – return for one more try on the series, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they featured in the reported two would last installments.
“F9” may not exactly be called art, but it is certainly a piece of escapist entertainment that puts an emphasis on “escape” and ultimately proves to be a high-flying adventure that won’t disappoint fans of the series. Others with just a passing interest may find they are having fun too.
George M. Thomas tries film and television for the Beacon Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ByGeorgeThomas
Movie: “F9: The Quick Saga”
Occupation: Vin Diesel, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren
Directed by: Justin Lin
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for violence and action sequences and language