The “Fast and Furious” series has always threaded a very fine needle when it comes to the varying degrees of ridiculousness on display. The good is reflected in sending a car to outer space, driving through one building and into another, or catching and redirecting a torpedo barehanded. The bad pops up in the form of self-aware commentary, convoluted plot wrangling and inconsistent characterization. These are not meant to be serious movies, yet they still find ways to undercut the bonkers reality that they establish. “Fast X” is no different, but while there are highlights to be found in this tenth installment, it’s ultimately an exercise in bloated whiplash caused by such inconsistency in quality and tone that it’s hard to approach as one comprehensive movie.
The central problem of “Fast X” is consistency, enabled in part by the fact that so much of the film feels episodic in nature. There are essentially four storylines that are cross-cut between each other, following different groups of characters in different locations. This leads to poor pacing between action sequences, vastly different approaches in storytelling, and a lopsided quality where three or four good scenes happen in a row followed by a terrible one.
During the events of “Fast Five,” Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa) watched as his father was taken down by Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew. Ten years later, Dante has concocted an elaborate revenge scheme that will decimate his adversaries. Through some violent machinations, Dom’s friends (Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang) are all placed on the terrorist watchlist and pursued by the Agency, which is under new management (Alan Ritchson). Meanwhile, the Agency captures Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and places her in a black-site prison alongside nemesis Cypher (Charlize Theron), and Jakob (John Cena) must play protector to Dom’s son (Leo Abelo Perry) from the same organization. Through all this, Dom tries to take down Dante, who always seems one step ahead.
The disjointed nature of the concurrent storylines leads to scenes that add virtually nothing to the movie. Sure, not every sequence in a film needs to further the plot, but it should serve some purpose, like establishing the world, developing characters and relationships — anything that contributes to the overall experience. “Fast X” has multiple scenes that could easily be cut and not change a thing. Clocking in at 141 minutes and crosscutting between so many stories with so many characters across so many locations, these digressions add to the film’s bloat and weigh down the more excessive sequences.
While the choppy approach to “Fast X” is a detriment, it doesn’t totally get in the way of the usual insanity that fans have come to expect (and love) from the series. There is nothing as mind-meltingly audacious as driving a car into space like in “F9,” but there are still some genuinely entertaining set pieces that harken back to the physics-defying elements from past entries. Outrunning fire, saving the Vatican and car-mounted cannons are just some of the highlights, while the terrific dialogue continues in the form of lines that sound epic but are ultimately hollow and plaintively silly.
Momoa will either be delightful or insufferable to viewers, as his grandiose villain is tremendously over the top. It worked for me because there are some genuinely funny moments that he delivers, and his character stands in stark contrast to the stoic badasses that fill out the rest of the cast. While Diesel can’t smile without it looking like it’s his first time attempting it, Momoa is a joyful eccentric who is clearly channeling the many iterations of the Joker in his chaotic flamboyance. Having him be a source of entertainment every time he’s on-screen makes his “episodes” among the most fun in “Fast X.”
New-to-the-franchise director Louis Leterrier has delivered one of the lesser entries in the series, with one half following the entertaining tradition of the other movies and the other half existing as a bungled, pale imitation of what’s come before. With its dubious physics, over-the-top characters and convoluted logic, “Fast X” finds itself straddling a fine line between the good and bad types of ridiculousness, though the film flops onto the lesser side more often than not. Considering that the movie ends with three different cliffhangers (and there will be at least one more entry in the franchise), that unsatisfying feeling permeates well into the end credits. It feels like Leterrier, Diesel and company wanted to make a muscle car version of “The Lord of the Rings,” but they should have focused on making one united film instead, running on the usual nitrous-fueled audacity rather than this ambitiously awkward hybrid of a movie.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Momoa, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludarcis, Sung Kang, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Brie Larson, Alan Ritchson, Rita Moreno, Helen Mirren, Jason Statham
Director: Louis Leterrier