Remember that small dramatic action flick from 2001 about boosting cars?
Seven movies later, it’s harder and harder to remember that “The Fast and the Furious” was about a Los Angeles cop going undercover to infiltrate a gang of automobile thieves.
A prime victim of the money-hungry quest of studios to franchise everything, a small crime drama has become an international box office sensation that’s now spinning off characters into their own burgeoning franchise.
Hence, “Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw,” a bombastic, jet-setting adventure hoping to draw interest from moviegoers to watch the intelligence officer from “Fast Five” reluctantly team up with the bad guy from “Furious 7.”
This concept alone isn’t a draw. But when action heavyweights like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham are involved; studios start to dream in dollar signs.
As each movie in the franchise becomes more outlandish, the stakes continue to rise exponentially.
With “Hobbs and Shaw,” intelligence agencies force the titular rivals to work together to locate Shaw’s sister Hattie, an on-the-run MI6 agent who has injected herself with a virus that could wipe out half the planet’s population.
Johnson has the charisma to take another blandly written character and inject enough vibrant humor to make a two-hour joyride at least engaging, while Statham is best ripping off dry witticisms at Johnson’s expense rather than anything he’s doing on his own.
Golden Globe winner Idris Elba plays a cybernetically enhanced villain bent on unleashing the deadly virus world-wide. Though it’s clear Elba is only here to cash a paycheck that will allow him to continue high-quality independent film work, it’s still sad to see the talented actor and potential next James Bond mail in a performance like this.
Appreciably funnier than any “Fast and the Furious” installment, “Hobbs and Shaw” relies both on the solid chemistry of Johnson and Statham as well as some painfully obvious cameos to give the spinoff its own identity.
Director David Leitch pushes the film more towards his “Deadpool 2,” but rated PG-13 territory rather than his significantly better small action hit “Atomic Blonde.” The stuntman turned director shows promise with his vision, but it’s often uneven and panders too much to “Fast and the Furious” tropes rather than set the film apart too much.]
The best scene in the entire film is a well-choreographed, story advancing slow motion action sequence that pits Johnson and Statham against Elba late in the third act. Leitch blends fight mechanics that hint at his uncredited work co-directing the original “John Wick” film with a classic “Fast and the Furious” kinetic energy to pay off much of what the prior two hours lazily sets up.
Action throughout the rest of the film is less successful as much of the frenetic driving sequences feel ripped straight off the cutting room floor of other “Fast and the Furious” installments.
Things are also hindered by the fact that contractual stipulations as reported by the Wall Street Journal this week limit the amount of damage Johnson and Statham’s characters are able to take, often giving them superhuman resilience that weakens the story overall.
“Hobbs and Shaw” is not a comic book film, but casual audiences could easily mistake it for a new superhero flick given just how incredibly well both leads come off in the film.
Stakes in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, for example, continue to accelerate at an exponential rate, but those films succeed in a more grounded nature as Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt’s mortality comes to a fuller bear.
The outlandishness of the stunt-work in “Hobbs and Shaw,” combined with the limitations put upon the storytelling due to the egotistical stars, makes it significantly harder for audiences to suspend disbelief.
Written at a “straight-to-DVD” level but produced on a blockbuster budget, “Hobbs and Shaw” has its moments, but wavers considerably on the enjoyment level.
It’s a film that would be best to catch while flipping channels on basic cable right before “Fast & Furious 9” hits theaters next year.