‘F9: The Fast Saga’: Why On Earth Are There 9 of These?

by Warren Cantrell on June 23, 2021

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

What in the red-hot fuck is wrong with you people? Nine? You’ve all been breathing oxygen into this trash fire of a franchise for nine goddamned installments? Until today I hadn’t seen a single one of these films, and F9: The Fast Saga fostered nothing in the way of regret as it concerns this very reasonable lifestyle choice.

Indeed, this is not a good movie, not even a little, and what might have once passed for a refreshing escapist lark seems to find itself stretching at the seams between a film that honors its “mythology” while also making fun of it. Oh, and F9 also boasts piss-poor fight choreography, terrible pacing, and Razzie-worthy acting, but we’ll get to all that in a minute.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Warren, you haven’t seen the first eight movies, of course you won’t be able to jump in mid-stream at number nine. Comprehension of what’s come before in terms of narrative and character development is inconsequential, however, because when F9 isn’t outright forcing its characters to tediously unspool plot exposition from this movie or one of the earlier ones, it diverts into extended flashback sequences to introduce more characters and drama. Apparently eight movies haven’t provided enough world-building and characters to front-load the Bond-lite doomsday scenario needed to get these idiots in cars: no, they had to cook up a long-lost brother arc for that.

So yeah, SUPER long-story-short, franchise anchor Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of unsanctioned mercenaries head to a fake Central American country to answer the distress call of their work buddy, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who is travelling with a doomsday MacGuffin satellite thingy and the series’ archvillain, Cipher (Charlize Theron). When Dom and co. get there, they realize that Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s estranged brother from a series of flashbacks that take up roughly 1/5 of the movie, is behind the whole thing. The rest of the film involves Dom and his crew crisscrossing the globe to track down leads on Jakob, Cipher, and the device, with a few car chases peppered throughout to keep the audience from falling asleep.

Involuntary slumber appears to be a problem on both sides of the screen, too, because from the outside looking in, half the cast seems to be in the grips of a debilitating Ambien addiction. This starts at the top with Diesel, whose impressive physique can’t mask the utter exhaustion that seems to define every aspect of his performance. Whether it’s the paychecks or the desperate need to remain culturally relevant outside of his work as a talking tree, one has to wonder what got this 53-year-old to set each day. He’s challenged in this regard only by Sung Kang, whose return to the franchise feels less like a triumph and more like a trip to the grocery store (or the bank) for the actor.

Others give the impression that they are at least trying, like Nathalie Emmanuel and Tyrese Gibson, both of whom seem to be having a little fun. The same goes for Thue Ersted Rasmussen, who comes across as thrilled not just to be in F9, but also for stealing a role pretty obviously meant for Daniel Brühl. This “fun” angle is something director Justin Lin should have tried for Cena, who does indeed have comedic chops, but proves here that he’s utterly incapable of gravitas in a role both the actor and the movie take very, very seriously.

And really, that’s the biggest problem F9 has: tone. The opening flashback and subsequent journeys into the past to highlight the rocky history between Dom and Jakob set all of this up as a solemn, thoughtful affair. This is all well and good, even with giant magnets flipping cars and rockets launching 2-door sedans into space, but Lin and his screenwriters also want to hedge their bets and be in on the joke as well.

Characters halt whole scenes to jokingly say lines like, “trust the physics,” and all but wink at the audience when explaining how people that should be dead are in fact alive. You can’t have it both ways: either buy into the absurdity of this increasingly-cartoonish franchise, or commit to the deep bench of characters and the drama they’ve built up over nine installments. This clash of tones is startling at times, and what’s worse, even the movie doesn’t seem to know what’s funny or not. The line, “She’s the one who killed the mother of your child” elicited laughs from the audience in my screening despite its dead-serious delivery, and moments like this largely define the picture. Were this just a dumb action movie leaning into the cheese that would be one thing, but the movie takes these lines seriously, and then asks the audience to laugh at the absurdity of it all moments later.  

But cars, and planes, and motorcycles, and explosions! Come on, Warren: didn’t you at least have fun?

No…no I did not. The action is so non-sensical and poorly sketched out that it makes even the biggest and loudest set pieces of F9 difficult to endure. A chase through a minefield early in the picture is kind of fun, as is a car chase featuring Helen Mirren, but there’s so little spatial awareness during these moments that it is hard to remain invested. Cars go fast, other cars chase them, and sometimes planes or choppers shoot missiles that don’t seem to do anything except kick up dirt and harmless fireballs. Although there’s a cliff that the heroes approach at one point, and a timer they’re racing against at another, the action isn’t woven into any real sense of immediacy, robbing the sequences of excitement or tension.

So yeah: this is a pass for me, both as a movie and as a harbinger for the franchise writ large. Action sequences near the beginning and end of F9’s intolerable 145-minute runtime spruce things up a bit and rescue the picture from a sagging second act with painfully little going on, yet even these scenes are plagued by choppy, in-too-close camera work that makes each fistfight feel like phonebooth-porn. Maybe the franchise needs Hobbs and Shaw to return from their spin-off; maybe someone needs to switch Diesel’s Ambien stash for Adderall; maybe this franchise was never that good to begin with. For my own part, I can’t say: I’m a Fast and Furious rookie coming in at #9, but from what I’ve seen, there’s no need for #10.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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