Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & ShawReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/31/19 15:38:13
One of the great byproducts about last week’s release of “Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood” was that for one brief and shining moment, it actually got people genuinely interested and excited by a film that went far beyond the usual levels of hype for the first time in a long while. Sure, some of the discourse was inevitably on the dopey side—especially the Internet commentary that was clearly more interested in clickbait than anything else—but for the most part, when people talked and wrote about the movie, they were responding with the kind of enthusiasm and passion that films used to inspire in the days before the industry shifted to an all-blockbuster all-the-time format. Love it or hate it, it is the kind of film that does not instantly fade from memory the moment the credits roll as is the case with so many big-budget gumdrops and my guess is that people will be discussing and arguing its finer points for a long time to come.If you truly want to appreciate what “OUATIH” managed to accomplish, both in cinematic terms and its effect on the discourse, all you need to do is check out the latest blockbuster du jour, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” a big-screen spinoff of the ludicrously resilient screen franchise that began as an amiably lunkheaded exploitation film about street racers and has swelled into a series of international adventures that are so over-the-top that they make the James Bond movies almost seem laid-back and low-fi by comparison. Having seen all of the films in the series, I can confidently state that while it is not even close to being one of the better entries, it is nowhere near the worst of the bunch either. It is, however, the most instantly forgettable of the bunch , which is strange considering that it cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and it contains some kind of astonishing stunt or action sequence maybe every two or three minutes for the duration of its 135-minute running time. And yet, despite all of the time and expense that went into making it, none of it sticks with you in a way that keeps you involved or interested even as it is unfolding before your eyes. This is the kind of movie that, when all is said and done, leaves you with nothing more than the desire to see a real movie.
Like most films involving international derring-do and whatnot, “Hobbs & Shaw” revolves around what Hitchcock used to refer to as “the McGuffin”—the element that more or less sets the plot into motion, even if it turns out to be fairly inconsequential in the long run. This time around, the device is a man-made virus with the power to kill unload millions of people after it is unleashed. As the film opens, a group of MI:6 agents in London trusted with transporting it are ambushed by Brixton (Idris Elba), a genetically and mechanically enhanced super-warrior who is part of a cyber-death cult intent on killing off huge chunks of the population so that the strong may survive and thrive. To prevent it from falling into his hands, one of the agents, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), injects the virus into herself before making her getaway. Of course, the death cult controls the media and so they put out the story that she killed her fellow agents and stole it, making her the most wanted woman in the world. To help track her down, America sends legendary lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to London and order him to team up with local outcast-who-is-nevertheless-the-best Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Why yes, you may ask, there are complications. For starters, as veterans viewers of the franchise know, Hobbs and Shaw hate each other and would just as soon shove each other through the nearest brick wall as work together. For another thing, it soon transpires that Hattie is actually Shaw’s estranged sister and that Shaw has a somewhat complicated backstory with Brixton stemming from the time that he tried to kill him a few years earlier.
Tracking Hattie down proves to be easy enough (although it seems to take forever) but with less than 72 hours to go before the capsule containing the virus dissolves and sends the disease into Hattie’s bloodstream with lethal results, the three set off on a quest to find the one machine capable of safely removing it from her body while at the same time avoiding the relentless attacks by Brixton and his crew. This quest first takes them to Moscow, where they meet up with an old flame of Shaw’s (Eiza Gonzalez) and run roughshod over a massive scientific complex, and eventually to Samoa, where Hobbs reunites with his long-estranged brother (Cliff Curtis)—it is all about family, after all—and prepares for a final stand against Brixton and his technologically advanced forces with the other men of his hometown despite the fact that they have not a single gun among them.
When a film franchise famous for insanely overblown action tries to top itself in terms of sheer outrageousness with each subsequent entry, there inevitably comes a time when it becomes a perfect example of the concept of “too much of a good thing.” That is what happened with the previous film in the series, “The Fate of the Furious” (2017). While its predecessors—“Fast Five” (2011), “Fast & Furious 6” (2013) and “Furious 7” (2015) found just the right balance of wild stunts, goofy humor and macho horseshit, “The Fate of the Furious” went so far over the top that it just became too much—sort of like when the James Bond series doubled down on the glorious excesses of “The Spy Who Loved Me” by sending Bond into space for the overstuffed “Moonraker.” In the case of that franchise, a course correction was made by next putting Bond in a more down-to-earth vehicle, “For Your Eyes Only,” that helped to recalibrate things. With “Hobbs & Shaw,” on the other hand, the producers have evidently elected to try and outdo “Fate of the Furious” in all regards and the result is more wearying than entertaining. Director David Leitch, who co-directed the great “John Wick” and then went on to make the not-so-great “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2,” starts each scene with everything cranked to 11 and then proceeds to see how much farther he can push it. Alas, by employing the quick-edit approach that has become the norm for most high-octane cinematic thrill rides, there are precious few moments when the film allows us to fully drink in the insanity it has created and as a result, it mostly comes out as a jumble that never has the impact that it was clearly hoping to achieve.
The other key problem behind “Hobbs & Shaw” is the one that has stymied so many spinoff vehicles in the past—it tries to build an entire story around characters who should not necessarily be front and center. In “The Fate of the Furious,” for example, the smack talk banter between Hobbs and Shaw proved to be a welcome and amusing relief from both that film’s overblown action scenes and the self-seriousness of the Vin Diesel character. However, bringing them to the forefront for this film does not add much of anything to either the characters or the saga as a whole. Oh sure, we learn about their respective real and heretofore unmentioned real families but other than that, the characters prove to be more or less interchangeable from the ones the Johnson and Statham have played in the past. Granted, they are fun to watch but after a while, the antagonistic byplay starts feeling forced and the whole thing takes on the feel of a lesser “Road” movie than a story involving the very safety of the world. Of the other key players, Kirby is okay—she is essentially playing the beard at the center of the implicit Hobbs/Shaw bromance—but gets little chance to display the fire that she demonstrated so convincingly in the last “Mission: Impossible” film while Elba struggles valiantly but unsuccessfully in his efforts to make his character seem vaguely plausible. In addition, there are a number of guest shots along the way that serve as distractions—while Helen Mirren turning up makes sense (as she was in the previous film) but the others just prove to be distractions. (One of them even turns up again during two of the three bonus scenes during the end credits—I promise that you can leave early without missing anything.)From a purely mercenary standpoint, a film like “Hobbs & Shaw” is clearly a good idea—between the combined name value and star power of the franchise as a whole and its leads along with its celebration of the international language of blowing stuff up real good, it will no doubt be an enormous box-office smash around the world. However, once the excitement has faded and everyone has moved on to the nest blockbuster, there is precious little here for moviegoers to hold onto afterwards. (Even the sight of Johnson winning a tug of war with a flying helicopter comes off as borderline banal here.) The best films in the “Fast & Furious” franchise have been glorious examples of cinematic eye candy that provides a instant sugar rush that proves impossible to resist even as you realize that none of it is especially nourishing. “Hobbs & Shaw,” on the other hand, is just a deal memo brought to life for no other reason than to make a lot of movie for everyone involved with it. This is great if you are one of those people—somewhat less so if you aren’t.
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