[Screen It]


(2019) (Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham) (PG-13)

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Action: Two adversaries team up to stop a super-villain from unleashing a deadly virus on the world's population.
Ever since they first met, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (DWAYNE JOHNSON) and former British special forces assassin turned mercenary Deckard Shaw (JASON STATHAM) have been adversaries at odds with each other. Yet, they're forced to work together -- sort of -- when they're tasked with finding former British agent Brixton Lore (IDRIS ELBA) who wants to unleash a deadly virus -- created by scientist Professor Andreiko (EDDIE MARSAN) -- on the world.

Brixton, who's essentially a super-villain what with having computerized and robotic enhancements infused in his body, sees his kind as the future of humanity and wants to cull the human herd by killing off the weak. Unfortunately for him, Deckard's estranged sister, Hattie (VANESSA KIRBY), has obtained the virus and injected it into her bloodstream for safekeeping. But with all of his connections, Brixton has made it appear that she killed the rest of her MI6 team, thus putting her on the run.

Accordingly, it's up to Hobbs and Shaw to put their differences behind them, find Hattie before Brixton does and battle that seemingly indestructible anarchist before it's too late. And to do so, they might just need the help of Hobbs' long-estranged brother, Jonah (CLIFF CURTIS), back in Samoa.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While audiences are obviously supposed to root for the heroes in action movies, sometimes -- and usually in the best such offerings -- the villains are so well-drawn and intriguing that they often overshadow the good guys. Such was the case in "Die Hard" where Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber easily matched Bruce Willis' John McClane.

Occasionally, even secondary characters outshine the main ones. That was the case in the later entries of the "Fast & Furious" franchise where Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham breathed some life into the series that re-fashioned itself from stories about men and their muscle cars to increasingly outlandish, James Bond on steroids sorts of offerings.

Now, Johnson and Statham have been upstaged themselves in their own, standalone "F & F" spinoff movie, the clumsily titled "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw." And the scene (and overall film) stealer surprisingly isn't Idris Elba as the villain (mainly because of his two-dimensional character and modus operandi that we'll get to in a moment).

Instead, it's Vanessa Kirby as the estranged sibling of Statham's Shaw. She's a MI6 agent who, in the opening sequence, is trying to keep a deadly virus from falling into the hands of Elba's antagonist. When push comes to shove (and punch, and kick, and shoot), she injects the sealed virus into her own bloodstream.

While we don't know much about her character, Kirby infuses her with so efficient bravado and badassery that you can't keep your eyes off her as she easily matches and often exceeds Johnson and Statham in terms of exhilarating action. So much so that I'd pay to see her get own standalone film (which, considering how this franchise continues to evolve, wouldn't surprise me one bit).

Of course, her male counterparts are certainly adept at doing the action bits, no doubt assisted by cinematographer Jonathan Sela and editor Christopher Rouse. That also holds true for the barbed, put-down banter between their characters as they find themselves forced to work together to stop the villain from culling the human herd via that virus. While that back and forth bickering gets a little old and repetitive after a while, it's fun and funny to behold early on.

Alas, Elba isn't given much of anything particularly interesting to work with by scribes Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, and that only reminds one of how brilliant the essentially same material was handled in the last two "Avengers" movies with the Thanos character.

But the writers and director David Leitch obviously aren't interested that much in that material. Instead, they're more focused on things such as Johnson's Hobbs character using his mighty muscles to keep a military-grade attack chopper from escaping (with, natch, a little assistance from the obligatory nitrous oxide infused torque).

His character also needs those muscles and bulk (and the ability to take a beating, alongside Statham's character) to deal with the Elba's "Black Superman" labeled bad guy who's seemingly arrived from an entirely different genre, namely that of the superhero variety. Infused with computer-assisted and bionic enhancements, he can avoid punches coming his way, block bullets with his hands, and even survive blasting through the side of a double-decker bus and having tons of debris fall on him.

Considering how outlandish these films have gotten over the years, I guess it's not quite so out of left field as it might otherwise seem to have a super-villain show up, but it just didn't work for me in this franchise that started with cars being the most powerful things on the screen.

I also found the series obligatory "family matters" material more than a bit forced, and to pull that off -- where the three leads head to Samoa for some family assistance -- the film really loses a lot of its steam. Which also holds true for the overall film series that keeps pushing the already far-fetched material to its breaking point, not to mention the related inherent dangers of turning off your brain to such a degree that you might not fully recover.

Diehard fans of the franchise might enjoy the offering -- and it has its moments -- but it's looking ever more like it might be a good idea to finally turn off these engines. That is, unless the next offering is "Fast & Furious Presents: Hattie Shaw Goes on a Rampage." This entry rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed July 30, 2019 / Posted August 2, 2019

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