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‘Fate of the Furious’ is stupid, but stupid fun

“The Fate of the Furious” is bonkers. Absolute bonkers. But that’s okay, because it knows it’s bonkers and revels in it. This is a movie that you can laugh at and laugh with.

What started out as a modest movie about L.A. street racing 16 years ago (“The Fast and the Furious”) has exploded into a multi-billion dollar Hollywood franchise. “The Fate of the Furious” is just the latest installment, number eight out of a projected ten movies (for now.) This one, like a couple of its predecessors, has more in common with James Bond, Mission Impossible, and the Marvel Universe than it does with the original film.

In the first “Fast and Furious,” street-racers steal electronics. In the latest, they steal nuclear bombs. The original takes place in Los Angeles; this eighth film goes all over the world – Havana, Berlin, Manhattan, even arctic Russia. The first film’s adversaries were rival street gangs and the LAPD. Now, the gearheads have the feds on their side and they battle international cyber-criminals bent on world domination. And most dramatically of all, the stunts have morphed into gonzo spectaculars!

The outlandish action set-pieces are the real (only?) reason to go see “The Fate of the Furious.” My favorite takes place in mid-town Manhattan, where the evil genius Cypher (Charlize Theron) plots to snag the nuclear codes from the Russian ambassador who’s in a limousine in the middle of a six-car escort.

“I want every car in a 2-mile radius, now.”

“There’s over a thousand of them.”

“Hack them all. It’s zombie time.”

“Zombie time” means every car with an auto-drive chip is now under her control. Hundreds of driver-less cars charge into traffic, as do cars WITH drivers whose control has transferred over to Cypher. Like a swarm of bees, these zombie cars crash into oncoming traffic willy-nilly, eventually surrounding their moving target, the Ambassador’s limo. At this point, Cypher commands “Let it rain!” and suddenly dozens of empty cars come flying out of four-story parking garages, and six-story parking garages, and eight-story parking garages. They rain down on the targetted limo, like a metal waterfall.

This scene is gasp-worthy. Not only is it a stunning sight, it’s also funny, beautifully choreographed, and slyly satirical (capitalizing on our fears of self-driving cars.)

The extended finale is also a wonder to behold, albeit even more ridiculous. The Fast and Furious crew, in assorted luxury sports cars do battle with a Russian submarine on a Siberian ice field! The gang on ice is literally racing the sub just underneath them. And periodically, the sub surfaces, like a whale, to knock assorted vehicles high into the air. So macho is one of the team (Dwayne Johnson’s character Luke Hobbs), he leans out of his tank door, grabs a torpedo that’s been skittering across the ice and redirects it to blow up one of the bad guys’ Jeeps. And finally, and fittingly, it’s left to the franchise’s biggest star Vin Diesel to finish off the sub with a car jump for the ages.

Defying logic and the laws of physics may be laughable but it can also be entertaining. And it’s not like the film is taking itself seriously either. In the midst of the dramatic climax, for instance, one guy single-handedly has a shoot-out with dozens of guys on a plane all the while carrying a baby in a car seat who’s listening to the Chipmunks music on headphones to drown out all the gun shots and falling bodies.

So much of the character dialogue consists of jokes and cracks at each other’s expense, that it often feels more like a comedy than a drama. That’s especially true of the verbal dueling between tough guys Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, both of whom can’t stand each other with great comic flair.

“You want to tell my why you just put me in a room with this tea and crumpets eating criminal?”

“I think that tight t-shirt is cutting off the circulation to your brain. You should get a bigger size.”

All these cracks not only relieve the tension, they also tip us off that the filmmakers are having fun.

Sure, “The Fate of the Furious” is stupid, but it’s stupid fun.

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