By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

After twenty years and nine previous movies, the Fast & Furious family are back again with yet another crazy adventure. It is pretty wild, when one thinks about it, how a simple and silly crime story about thieving street racers has been developed and reinvigorated into such a massive and successful movie franchise. Still, it isn’t so unfathomable when one considers how creative minds like filmmaker Justin Lin could re-envision the saga and its protagonists as a team of superspies taking on impossible missions. After taking a break from the series, after contributing four installments, Justin Lin has returned for this ninth chapter. However, it is evident that, while there is no shortage of ideas, the story well is starting to run low on fuel.

Since “The Family’s” last adventure, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and son Brian have kept a low profile and stayed away from any action, as his focus is to raise his new family in peace. This quiet time is of course short-lived, though. When “The Family’s” friend and associate, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) gets into some serious trouble, he reaches out to the crew for help. At first, Dom decides to sit this one out, while the rest of his crew decide to take action. That is, until Dom discovers that his estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) is one of the villains behind Nobody’s troubles.

Written and directed by Justin Lin, who co-wrote the story and screenplay with Daniel Casey and Anthony Boutello, F9 has an interesting and moderately compelling backstory driving the movie’s chief conflict; however, this story idea gets overshadowed and upstaged by some of the most outlandish and ridiculous action sequences ever created for the entire franchise. I mean; I totally get that the filmmakers want to top anything pulled off in the previous movies, but it certainly gets to the point where the absurdity and over-the-top nature of the action gets absolutely obnoxious and tiresome. As much as I like these characters and enjoyed several of their previous adventures, it has now gotten to the point where it is hard to seriously believe that these characters are in danger and are risking their lives because they always manage to come out of all of it mostly unscathed.

To the credit of the filmmakers, this problem does get acknowledged, as the beloved character Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) starts to consider how insane it is that they all have managed to survive every single adventure and mission the team has taken on. This becomes one of the movies more amusing and entertaining gags, because one simply has to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Now, to be fair, despite the weaknesses of the story and the ridiculous action set pieces, I still managed to have some fun. To say otherwise would be an absolute lie. I also still very much like these characters and enjoy what each actor brings to them.

If it weren’t for their charisma and natural abilities to look cool and badass doing what they do, this franchise would not have lasted this long. Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Sung Kang all make welcome reprisals of their characters. They each have their distinctive roles and usually execute them perfectly. Also returning are the also beloved and respected Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell. New to the franchise are of course John Cena and Michael Rooker.

Rooker portrays Buddy, a former member of Jack Toretto’s (Dom’s father) pit crew who knows well the history of Dom and Jakob’s troubles. Though Rooker is always a great presence in any movie, he honestly doesn’t get to do too much here. As for Cena, while it seems like he is doing his best playing villain, he often comes across as wooden, robotic, and not at all natural. While I have enjoyed Cena’s work in comedy films, I simply could not get into this attempt at a more dramatic turn. Cena just doesn’t have the same natural charisma that Dwayne Johnson has.

So, with this ninth instalment in The Fast Saga, the signs of wear are finally beginning to show. With a tenth and probably final chapter already planned, the filmmakers better have a most compelling and powerful story to send off these beloved characters. As far as outdoing the action set pieces is concerned, I feel there is no need anymore. Seriously, how much more outlandish can they get at this point? They have already jumped the shark and pushed the envelop as far as they possibly can. We will just have to wait and see what they have in store for us. In the meantime, I think die hard fans will still enjoy this latest adventure despite its flaws and silliness. The fans are the “ride-or-die” folks that will keep this franchise afloat for at least one more time, despite what the critics say. That is mainly how filmmakers have managed to keep this series alive for twenty years.

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