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"F9"
(2021) (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A team of skilled drivers and other specialists try to stop a trio of villains from obtaining a device that can control all the world's weapons systems.
PLOT:

Wanting a break from their previous high-stakes escapades with their skilled team of drivers and other specialists, Dominic Toretto (VIN DIESEL) and his second wife, Letty (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ), have moved off the grid to a house in the middle of nowhere to raise their young son.

But it's not long before some of their former crew -- Roman (TYRESE GIBSON), Tej (CHRIS 'LUDACRIS' BRIDGES), and Ramsey (NATHALIE EMMANUEL) -- show up and inform them of a troubling development. It seems their government contact, Mr. Nobody (KURT RUSSELL), is missing after his plane was attacked to extract their archenemy, Cipher (CHARLIZE THERON), and a device that could allow someone to control all the world's weapons systems.

They end up traveling to the site of the crash only to learn that Dom's estranged brother, Jakob (JOHN CENA), is the culprit, but he manages to get away, although his appearance causes his and Dom's sister, Mia (JORDANA BREWSTER), to rejoin the team. Following a lead, she and Letty end up discovering that a former team member believed to have been killed, Han (SUNG KANG), is alive and well and protecting a young woman, Elle (ANNA SAWAI), who has ties to the Project Aries device.

With Jakob's rich business partner Otto (THUE ERSTED RASMUSSEN) wanting to get his hands on Elle to activate the device, and with Dom wanting to avenge his father's death long ago, he and his team set out to stop the bad guys.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

There's a funny story about Neil deGrasse Tyson's run-in with director James Cameron where he noted that the display of stars in the Northern Atlantic night sky was wrong in "Titanic." Cameron put the astrophysicist in his place by noting how much money his movie had made and then sarcastically commented on how much more that would have been had the stars been presented accurately. But as Tyson noted, when a new, updated version of the doomed Leo and Kate romance flick came out, Cameron had fixed the sky.

Outside of Tyson, few expect cinematic fiction to be historically and scientifically accurate all the time. But beyond Tyson's occasional commentary, a little cottage industry has popped up where experts in any number of fields judge certain films in their portrayal of matters those experts are...well...experts in. They rate films on a scale of 0 to 10 in terms of accuracy, and while entertaining to some degree or another, I doubt the average moviegoer could care less as they simply want to be entertained.

I have no idea if any such experts have examined the offerings in the "Fast and Furious" movie universe, but if they have -- especially of late -- I imagine they've given up long before the end credits roll. And that's because what started as street race flicks eventually morphed into Ethan "Mission: Impossible" Hunt and James Bond territory, with the latter definitely falling into the goofier shenanigan moments of the Roger Moore era.

And that's now come to a head in the latest installment, "F9," that barely seems to operate in our world, what with the complete and ruthless abandonment of gravity or pretty much any other laws of physics and other fields of science (at one point, several characters discuss this in a near-meta moment). In fact, in this far too long (145 minutes) and overly convoluted live-action cartoon, things went so far over the top that I thought that by the time "F10" rolls around, the team of fast drivers would somehow end up on the moon where at least the gravity-defying aspects would make a tad more sense.

Well, those behind the camera -- writer/director Justin Lin and co-scribe Daniel Casey -- couldn't wait. While the moon thankfully is sparred, two of the story's characters are launched into space in an old Pontiac Fiero while wearing old diving suits and, yes, "drive" into something to keep the vehicular assault continuing well above terra firma. And since we're now in space, I might as well bring up the old Borg saying from "Star Trek" that resistance is futile.

Yes, by this point, you're either willing and eager to go along for the ride or you've long since jumped out of this cinematic vehicle where the mindset is nothing but "pedal to the metal" in terms of audacious and outrageous action set pieces. And the film is filled with plenty of those, ranging from somehow driving fast enough to avoid the explosive results of driving over land mines, driving off a cliff and somehow snagging a cable that flings said vehicle across a canyon, and driving up a collapsing wood and rope suspension bridge. And all of that occurs in just the first sequence that eventually leads to a Don Adams "would you believe" sort of finale that needs such quantities of suspension of disbelief that none shall remain by the time the end credits roll.

The story revolves around the team -- Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) -- learning that the plane carrying Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and a captured Cipher (Charlize Theron) has been attacked and gone down in some fictional Central American country. Since the crew is now all about saving the world, they travel there, have a run-in with the local military, and discover that Dom's estranged brother (Jon Cena) is behind the mess -- which eventually pulls their other sibling, Mia (Jordana Brewster), back into the proceedings.

This doesn't sit well with Dom since he has a long-standing grudge with his brother -- all based on the death of their father on a racetrack in a scene from the past that starts the movie. That brotherly tension -- that goes against the series' long-running mantra that "family is all that counts" -- is revisited throughout the film, not just in the contemporary action scenes, but the occasional flashbacks to their falling out.

The material also returns characters from the "Tokyo Drift" installment of the series, some for comic relief (with Gibson and Ludacris handling the rest), and others for a connected plot element where a fan favorite from the past (Sung Kang) returns from the dead (which isn't a spoiler since it was included in the trailer).

While the film clearly misses the action charisma of Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson (notwithstanding a mid-credits scene), and Cena's acting is, well, about as believable as the physics on display, I imagine diehard fans of the series will enjoy what's offered. If anything, the flick delivers the action and then some, although the aforementioned "realism experts" will need facial massages to deal with all the eye-rolling, raised eyebrows, and frowning they'll experience.

For everyone else, as long as you know what you're getting into, it's sort of fun in a so far over the top way that you don't mind having your common sense and views of reality throttled and jostled about like all the fast-moving cars. "F9" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 22, 2021 / Posted June 25, 2021


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