Last time they went to freaking space. In a Pontiac Fiero! So, the biggest question about Fast X, the tenth chapter in the Toretto-centric saga of Southern-California-car-enthusiasts-turned-international-mega-spies, is how the hell are they going to outdo that? Well, Jason Momoa as gay-coded street race Jesus is one way. Unfortunately, Momoa and his delirious, gleeful performance is the only thing Fast X has going for it. It’s also never been clearer just how much this franchise misses the late Paul Walker and how much it’s lost its way since his death.
Momoa plays Dante Reyes, the son of Joaquim de Almeida’s Fast Five big bad. Because if there’s one thing this franchise loves besides the vroom vroom, it’s telling us later that there was a family member lurking just on the periphery who comes back for vengeance in a future installment. This drives the whole plot. Dante wants to not just kill Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his ragtag group of super spies (and that’s what they are now, the saga has fully stopped pretending) but wants to rip their lives apart. And he will do it with the most convoluted, nonsensical plan imaginable.
The plot is a mishmash of elaborate chase scenes tied together by tenuous premises and the sprawling internal, and discombobulated mythology the Fast and Furious movies have cooked up over the last 20-plus years. Which is really what this franchise is all about. Only Fast X lacks any of the emotional resonance, earnest camaraderie, or joy that sold the earlier chapters, especially Five through Seven, as much as the action ever did. The result is a hollow shell of a movie, which is saying something because F8 and F9 are vapid as hell.
Everyone gets their own side quest. We’ve got Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the most chemistry-free couple in all blockbuster cinema, who love nothing more than abandoning their young child to go adventuring around the globe. Roman (Tyreese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) do their schtick, bantering back and forth in an act so tiresome and threadbare when Ramsey (Natalie Emmanuel) rolls her eyes at them it feels more like the character doing it than the actor. Han (Sung Kang) kicks around sometimes, Jordana Brewster’s Mia pops up occasionally, as does Helen Mirren, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, and a who’s who grab bag of other familiar players. And we get new players, like Brie Larson’s Tess and Alan Ritchson’s Aimes, Agency spooks who do espionage things.
And even with all of this, it's wildly inconsistent within the framework of the other movies. For example, Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s long-lost brother. He went from being a cold, calculating international terrorist in F9 to being wacky uncle Jakob who dances and makes Vanilla Ice jokes. This turn is actually much more in line with what Cena does well as an actor, but it’s a complete 180 from the last outing. Nothing feels like it has any consequences, to the next scene, the next act, the next movie, and so on. There’s so much going on, and somehow none of it matters.
I can already hear people saying things like, “This is just big dumb action,” and that I expect too much. Big dumb action is great, big dumb action is fun. These movies have made billions of dollars on that premise. But Fast X is just dumb and missing the fun component. (Momoa excepted.) Dante plays like an audience surrogate, like a meta commentary looking at these movies from the outside and making fun of the inherent absurdity. It’s starting to seem like a Sharknado kind of situation, like the filmmakers are inviting us to laugh along with them at this stupid movie they made instead of with the movie. It’s not only horribly inauthentic, but it also undercuts the heart and pleasure of earlier movies and feels insulting as an audience member.
Even the action, which has always been the one thing this franchise could always hang its hat on in the bleakest days, leaves you wanting. Again, after going to space, parachuting cars out of planes, and drag racing a nuclear submarine, how can you top that? Fast X tries, but fails, stringing together sequences of subpar action scenes. And we’re not criticizing the physics-defying nature of the action, they left any pretense of reality in the rearview long ago. What we get here is uninspired, thrill-less car chases with zero stakes, physically or emotionally, and shoddy CGI and green screen work. For as much hyperactivity as they put on screen, the result plays painfully dull and devoid of any tension.
And then there’s the end. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending, because there isn’t one. It ends; it just ends. In the middle of a climactic scene, Fast X stops and that’s it. Like so much of the preceding film, it’s an empty, ill-conceived choice that offers no reason to care. The resulting impression walking out of the theater is one of a franchise that’s gradually had everything that once made it special leached out of it and like maybe the filmmakers never understood what made it good in the first place. At this point, the only way to redeem these movies is to bring back Johnny Strong as the main villain. [Grade: D+ and the + is 100% for Jason Momoa and nothing else.]