In the “Fast and Furious” films it is said, as a franchise-spanning mantra, that life is all about “the 10 seconds between start and finish, when you’re not thinking about anything.” The eighth installment in the series, “The Fate of the Furious,” tries to stretch that blissful, thoughtless feeling over two hours and 16 minutes full of revving engines and heavy pathos.
This film is something of a tour of America’s old Cold War nemeses and commences in Havana (where a thaw in US-Cuban relations allows us to see a freer capital full of short shorts and street racing).
The speediest driver is Dom (Vin Diesel, who, as in the xXx franchise, exercises his Spanish with vocabulary like “un motor,” in reference to an engine he promptly sets on fire). Diesel, now firmly entrenched in the casual-white-pants portion of his acting career, is honeymooning with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), his longtime squeeze. One day, Dom is walking to meet her — with a rose and a baguette in his bag! — when he is stopped by Charlize Theron’s cyberterrorist Cipher, a woman confusingly described as a “digital act of God.” She demands that Dom come work for her and, although he insists, “I choose to make my own fate,” he decides to go rogue after watching an enigmatic video on Cipher’s phone.
In order to counteract the heel turn from Dom, government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his assistant, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), get the rest of the Furious band back together.
First they have to pull Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) off the pitch where he’s coaching his daughter’s soccer team. After an unfortunate pratfall with some snapped handcuffs and complaints that his pants are “tight in the crotch,” Hobbs is incarcerated in a supermax prison. There he is uneasily reunited with Deckard (Jason Statham), the antagonist in the seventh “Fast” film. Proving we’re still not totally over the Revolutionary War, Johnson and Statham engage in some professional wrestler-level banter — “I will beat you like a Cherokee drum,” “I’ll slice some bacon off your back,” etc.
A new mission means new toys for Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) — an orange Lamborghini and mini tank, respectively. As in the other movies in the series, about one in four of their jokes are funny but they are all delivered with full hearts.
The most interesting character continues to be Letty, an emotional powerhouse whose glower reflects the fact that she’s only character to truly register appropriate disgust at Dom’s betrayal. Part of the enjoyment of this eighth episode is seeing how Diesel and Rodriguez have aged through the films, how the furrows in their brows no longer smooth away.
And, as the living characters in Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” are influenced by the deceased Percival, the Fast and Furious family is stalked by the missing presence of Paul Walker’s character, Brian. Among the various tributes throughout the film, there is the melancholy admission that, “Brian would know what to do.”
Director F. Gary Gray, shooting with the cartoonish esprit necessary for his audience, makes sequences that shake with concussion grenade wooziness and, in a slick bit of midtown Manhattan fun, he sets a pack of hacked, self-driving cars careening like migratory wildebeests through Times Square.
‘The Fate of the Furious’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 2:16. Visit cinemawest.com.