Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Kristofer Hivju, Scott Eastwood
Written by: Chris Morgan
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language
Running Time: 136
Date: 04/14/2017

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A 'Fate' Escape

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's possible some jokester could have called it "The F8 of the Furious," to indicate part eight of the hugely successful, 16 year-old franchise — the awful second part was called 2 Fast 2 Furious — but that kind of silliness seems to have passed.

The cast of the new properly-titled The Fate of the Furious — opening Friday in Bay Area theaters — are now mostly around 40, and the theme of "family" takes precedence. The days of characters spending whole films trying to out-cool one another are over.

Whereas the films were once aggravatingly stupid, they have now reached a comfortable, non-offensive middle-ground, and are occasionally elevated to the spectacular.

The last entry, Furious 7, buoyed by the gifted director James Wan, was the best one so far.

Now F. Gary Gray, of Friday, The Italian Job, and Straight Outta Compton, takes the wheel, and he manages to hang on. He doesn't improve on anything, but he doesn't stall out either.

The plot of The Fate of the Furious is barely worth repeating, but, after an opening teaser race sequence in Havana, Dom (Vin Diesel) is blackmailed into working for a super-evil computer hacker called Cipher (Charlize Theron).

He betrays his team without telling them what's going on, because, if he did, there would be no movie.

But never mind. The setup leads to a sequence in which giant a wrecking ball swings down the street and smashes the cars of the pursuing bad guys.

In another scene, hundreds of cars are activated and remotely driven through New York City, with a great many crashes and stunt people jumping out of the way.

Then, Shaw (Jason Statham) performs a daring escape while carrying a baby in a carrier seat. Finally, a submarine (!) chases our heroes across a frozen Russian tundra.

Except for an unfortunate shaky-cam-ridden prison break sequence, Gray films all these moments with expert clarity and speed.

It's hard not to be thrilled by the sheer ingenuity, as well as the joyous enthusiasm with which they are executed.

Among colorful locales and scantily-clad, objectified women, former friends return, played by Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Kurt Russell.

As for the newcomers, Scott Eastwood is fairly bland, but Helen Mirren, of all people, somehow brings the whole movie up a notch.

Yes, Oscar-winner Mirren has joined a series that's not exactly smart, nor clever, nor funny, but it is a series that can make you smile from time to time, and that's not a bad thing.

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