- Jared Huizenga
F9: So Bad I Want to Sell My Car
The other day, prior to the press screening for the latest chapter in the ‘Fast Saga,’ I posted a picture of the screen to my Facebook page. A friend commented, asking whether Dominic Toretto and his crew had officially jumped the shark, or if they were saving that for the tenth movie.
And, no, ‘F9’ doesn’t really jump the shark so much as it crams sticks of dynamite into the shark’s gills, nostrils, and any other available orifice and lights all the fuses simultaneously.
Oh, and since it’s a ‘Fast’ movie, Vin Diesel drives out of the exploding shark, unscathed (duh) and screaming “American muscle” so ferociously that everyone else’s sleeves magically fall off.
(Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom (Vin Diesel) in ‘F9,’ co-written and directed by Justin Lin. (Photo by Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures. © 2021 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
‘F9’ goes something like this: VROOM, VROOM, CRASH, VROOM, “family,” KABOOM, VROOM, VROOM, CRASH, KAPOW … “someone needs to say grace.”
Need more? OK, fine.
We start off with a young Dominic Toretto and his previously unmentioned younger brother, Jakob, working the pits for their oft-mentioned, previously unseen, racecar-driving father, Jack. With just a few laps standing between Jack and a championship, we finally see the fiery crash (mentioned in the first movie) that killed Jack and put Dom in revenge rampage mode against the driver that caused the wreck (and sent Dom to prison).
While serving his time, flashback Dom has an epiphany and realizes that it wasn’t the man he nearly killed with a wrench that killed his father … it was Jakob and something he did to the car. A loser-leaves-town race ensues, and Jakob gets to stepping.
Present-day Dom (Vin Diesel) is living in comfy exile with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his young son, Brian. Comfortable – and bored – the couple has settled into domestic life. That is until Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) show up at their door with a new mission.
Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has sent a desperate message. After capturing Cipher (Charlize Theron), his plane has been hijacked and a high-value item stolen, before the plane crashed in the jungles of a hostile country run by a strict military regime. Content keeping little Brian safe, Dom declines the team’s invite … until he rewatches the video and figures out that the hijacker is none other than Jakob (John Cena). And Jakob is highly-trained and bankrolled by the rich, connected, and conniving Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen).
(From left) Dom (Vin Diesel), Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) and Jakob (John Cena) with additional cast members in ‘F9,’ co-written and directed by Justin Lin. (Photo by Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures. © 2021 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
Dom joins his team in searching for Mr. Nobody, and the subsequent Easter egg hunt that leads them to Central America, Tokyo, and the United Kingdom with a mission to save the world from assured destruction. And, of course, uncover a few surprises along the way. (Honestly, it’s been so long since I watched a trailer for this, I don’t know what’s a surprise/spoiler any more and what’s not.)
Oh, and since it’s a family affair, Letty felt it only proper to invite baby sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) along for the ride. “Where’s Brian,” you ask? Well, rather than help his wife, brother-in-law, and best friends save the world, Brian (the late Paul Walker) has decided to stay home and babysit.
(from left) Elle (Anna Sawai), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in ‘F9,’ co-written and directed by Justin Lin. (Photo by Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures. © 2021 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. All Rights Reserved.
And therein lies my first issue with ‘F9.’ I understand that rather than have Brian die after Walker’s untimely death, they wanted to preserve his legacy by simply writing him into off-screen scenes and hinting at his presence. However, if Brian and Dom were as close as they were, and his super secret killer spy little brother showed up to destroy the world, Brian would be there. Obviously, they don’t want to use technology and Walker’s brothers in perpetuity to recreate Brian/Paul, but if the franchise continues they need to do that or finally give Brian a hero’s send-off if for no other reason than to have his absence make some sense.
Other problems with the story … well, there’s really not much story to speak of, so it’s not overly problematic. The story is simple and recycled, with every scene, every conversation, every action done with no other motivation than to set up the next over-the-top action sequence.
And that’s fine. Really, it is. Nobody walks into a ‘Fast’ movie expecting great acting, dialogue, and character development, but at least the first few movies in the series made a half-hearted attempt at it. ‘F9’ doesn’t even bother trying though. Unless you count the obligatory BBQs and “mi familia” speeches that make you long for the days of magical dialogue like “You almost had me? You never had me - you never had your car!”
That leaves ‘F9’ with only its action sequences to fall back on. And, yes, they’re fun and they’re ridiculous and hilarious and easy on the eyes. Until the moment they’re not. And that moment comes at about the 1-hour mark, which wouldn’t be bad if there wasn’t another hour and a half to go. As the sequences get progressively bigger and the idea of anyone surviving them becomes more asinine, you start wondering how you missed the moment where Nick Fury swooped in and recruited this merry band of ex-street racers and computer whizzes to become Avengers. And once that thought has cleared your mind, there’s another 60 minutes of explosions and VROOM VROOM on tap.
Han’s Toyota Supra (left) and Dom's Dodge Charger (right) attempt to stop the monstrous three-section armored vehicle dubbed the Armadillo in ‘F9,’ co-written and directed by Justin Lin. (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures © 2021 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. All Rights Reserved.)
Kudos to Diesel and company for taking a movie about DVD player-stealing street racers (kids, look on the Google to see what a DVDis ) and turning it into a multi-decade, multi-billion dollar franchise that simply prints money at this point, and to director Justin Lin for somehow hacking into Michael Bay’s dream journal, making those dreams shotgun sixers of Four Loko, and recording the madness as it unfolds.
But the reality is this franchise has traded in cool, yet at least somewhat believable action, and perfunctory melodrama for a live action cartoon where explosions only hurt the bad guys and cheesy catchphrases deliver the entirety of its characters souls.
If turn-your-brain-off escapism is what you’re after, ‘F9’ should be your movie of choice. But it doesn’t even stand up to most of the other films in the series – I’ve got it toward the bottom, ahead of ‘Fast 5’ and just below ‘Tokyo Drift.’
★½ of ★★★★★