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‘F9’ shows ‘Fast and Furious’ filmmakers can’t even take themselves seriously

It can’t have been easy coming up with a new plot for a ninth Fast and Furious movie, given that all those films are little more than a series of car chases and more car chases, occasionally enlivened with another car chase. No one, not the fans nor the filmmakers, is complaining, however, and why should they? This is a $5 billion dollar (and counting) franchise. The tricky part is that each successive film has to get bigger than the last. More bombastic, more outlandish, more ridiculous. Nine movies in, the writers must have thought they had no choice but to jump the shark. Not literally, mind you. What they concocted is even dumber. Can you say outer space?

Before we get to that punchline though, let’s back up. “F9: The Fast Saga” once again brings the Fast and Furious gang together to fight off yet another attempt by assorted bad guys to take over the world. Like the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Universe, a high-tech device that could control all the computers in the world, and hence the world’s weapons systems, has been split in two and hidden so no one entity could take over the world. Well, guess what? The bad guys are close to getting both halves and the key to unlocking its powers. Yawn.

But wait, there are a lot of chases – with lots of muscle cars, souped-up motorcycles, massive tanks, even armored vehicles the length of trains – in lots of far-flung locations (Montecito, Edinburgh, the Caspian Sea, Tokyo, London, Tbilisi.) The action set-pieces are unabashedly spectacular, if a bit repetitive over the course of this nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie. The film has a lot of fun with racing and chasing vehicles equipped with high-powered electromagnets, for instance, that both attract and repel everything from bystanders’ phones and watches to bad guys’ guns and cars. It’s hard to run somebody off the road when your car is magnetized to the car you’re trying to run down. Ha!

It’s understood and accepted that none of these stunts would ever work in real life, where physics still reigns.

But “F9” then goes where no Fast Saga entry has ever gone before. Space, the Final Frontier.

The Fast and Furious crew realize that in order to stop the bad guys it has to destroy a particular satellite orbiting the earth. So, of course, the crew does what any serious bad-guy-stopping operation would do – they strap rockets to an old Pontiac Fiero and shoot two of the crew into outer space. I kid you not. Thankfully, this is played mostly for laughs. When the two lucky astronauts Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris), wearing deep-sea diving outfits rather than space suits, finally reach orbit in their beat-up Pontiac, they’re in utter disbelief.

“This is crazy, bro!”
“Two dudes from the ghetto … in outer space!”

It’s a remarkably light and funny moment. We’ve suddenly left the gritty, stressful Fast and Furious world and have entered into Abbott and Costello territory. (“Abbott and Costello Go to Mars.”)

This comic relief works in the moment, but it eventually underscores a problem with the script. There are absolutely no stakes for anyone in the film. No one who shouldn’t die dies. In fact, some people who died in past movies are even explained back to life in “F9.”

In a very meta move, Roman even comments on how amazing it is that he’s never been hurt in any of his Fast and Furious escapades. Despite impossible odds, Tej and Ramsey and Letty and Dom have also escaped relatively unscathed time after time after time. The crew laughs it off and gets back to work. But the film clearly is acknowledging just how far-fetched this franchise is getting.

This kind of self-awareness is refreshing for a blockbuster franchise but could foretell its doom. When even the Fast and Furious filmmakers can’t take themselves seriously, will it be enough for fans to be in on the joke?

Perhaps what is needed is a kind of reboot. Much like the James Bond franchise did with Daniel Craig, this juggernaut of a series might benefit from a return to its rough-and-tumble roots. The original, “The Fast and The Furious,” was a pretty straight-forward movie about street racing in the mean streets of L.A. At this point, bringing Dom Toretto and “family” back down to reality would feel downright exotic.

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