Synopsis: Dominic Toretto and his crew battle the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: his forsaken brother.
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Lucas Black, Finn Cole, Vinnie Bennett
Director: Justin Lin
Running Length: 143 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Oh my, my! Can 20 years have flown by so fast? The biggest thing I remember about 2001’s The Fast & The Furious is that on the way to the screening a rock hit my windshield and sent a huge crack through it and I obsessively thought about it during the whole movie, clouding my vision of what would kick off a multi-billion dollar franchise. The second film two years later came out on what was then the biggest screen in my state but after that the movies in the Fast saga have tended to blend together, creating a bit of a mish mash in my head of plot lines and characters. For a time, each entry built upon its predecessor and gained an edge, but they’ve never not been entertaining in one way or another. Part of the fun is the way the series is willing to go over the top to please its devoted audience.
While fans have waited longer for a sequel before, they’ve been positively chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel of F9: The Fast Saga, which was delayed a full year when it became one of the first films to commit to pushing their release date when the pandemic hit in early 2020. And really, watching one of these adrenaline-fueled action pics in a theater is truly the only way to see them…at least for the first viewing. Car stunt wise, I’m not sure that F9: The Fast Saga is the biggest the series has had to offer but the entire experience is certainly the furthest over-the-edge the unexpectedly hearty epic has to offer. It’s also completely ridiculous and pushes credulity so far even ride or die fans might need to pull of for a breather.
After a flashback opening set far enough back in time that the film opens with Universal’s older logo (a nice little thrill for this nostalgia hound), we’re back in the present to find Dom (Vin Diesel, Riddick) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, She Dies Tomorrow) living the quiet life on a farm with Dom’s young son. Out of “the life” long enough to mention it and then in the next scene have some old friends stop by to pull them back in for a rescue mission, the two leave their peaceful retirement behind and enter into a deadly operation that puts Dom face to face with his past.
As with most of the Fast films, it pays to know the history of the franchise and the various characters that have floated in and out because a number of them zoom through. Charlize Theron (Bombshell), Kurt Russell (Backdraft), Helen Mirren (The Good Liar), and Shea Wingham (The Quarry) are just a few previous players who make an appearance, along with several more whom I won’t reveal in order to keep some surprises for you to discover. New to the racetrack is John Cena (Bumblebee) as Dom’s younger brother (this ain’t no spoiler) and due to their complicated history there’s more than a little sibling rivalry going on between the two that has led to the men operating on opposite sides of the law. Cena (who looks two and a half times as large as Diesel) sort of works perfectly in the film, obviously meant to fill a gap that The Rock left when he and Jason Statham were spun-off into 2019’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Cena may still have room to grow in the acting department but so did Diesel when he started back in the day and even he’s still finding the right gear to operate in.
By this stage, the plots are almost beside the point, seeing that we know each film is but a pit stop in an apparently never-ending highway of crazy. Multiple times during this ninth outing I had to stifle a ‘bu**ls**it!’ from coming out of my mouth (and actually let one slip out) because what screenwriters Daniel Casey and Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond) have come up with strains at the very limits of disbelief and it’s only because audiences are in the ninth go-around of this journey that they’ll likely absolve the filmmakers of some of the audacious flights of fancy they send Dom and his gang on or superhuman strength they imbue them with. At the very least, you have to get some credit for not rolling your eyes all the way around in their sockets for Diesel making it through nearly the entire film wearing the crispest white T-Shirt you’ve ever seen and never see it get a mark on it. I couldn’t walk through an airtight box of air without getting it stained somehow yet this racer can flip his car and send it soaring over bridges and escape without barely a smudge? Or a tear?
The rest of the group is accounted for and giving their same best pedal to the metal, with Rodriguez again finding more soul to her character than I ever could have thought way back when it was a one-note second banana that nearly exited before a miraculous resurrection. I’m shocked Tyrese Gibson (Fast & Furious 6) and Ludacris haven’t also found themselves in their own film because their chemistry is locked and loaded – it’s time for them to branch out. She’s featured much less in this one but Theron (sporting a haircut even worse than the last film) revels in her villainy, understanding completely the role she’s tasked with. Jordana Brewster (Furious 7) gets roped in for more action, and it makes more sense because this one involves her two brothers and not just taking the place for her husband, Brian (the late Paul Walker). While it is noble the filmmakers chose not to write Walker’s character out of the picture after his tragic death, it is becoming odd that they are continuing to pretend he’s still alive…going so far as to show Brian’s car driving around but not Walker driving it.
I haven’t done a full re-watch of the series yet and I think before the inevitable F10 it’s time for me to get around to that. Timelines and storylines have all zig-zagged around so much that it’s beginning to get hard to track who is coming and going but as long as there is gas in the tank and air in the tires, this box office speedster is unstoppable. It might not make any kind of logical sense, but F9: The Fast Saga has made the lengthy wait worth it for legions of its admirers.