“F9” is like that. All of it.
If, as more than one fan has noted, the “F&F” films have turned into an international, multicultural, hip-hop-friendly answer to James Bond, the last few have been Roger Moore-era Bonds. The only question is whether this new one is “Moonraker” or “Octopussy.” I vote “Moonraker” because a satellite figures into the plot. I would describe said plot in more detail if I thought I could keep it straight, and if I thought it mattered, but it doesn’t. Plot was never the reason people went to these films. The appeal lies in the chases and stunts, the bruising fights and mythic posturing, in the repeated invocations of [rumbling Vin Diesel voice] FAMMMM-LY, and in the soap opera/professional wrestling-style storytelling, which allows bad guys to become good guys and introduces new characters that we’re told mean the world to an established character even though nobody in the previous films mentioned their name before.
In “F9,” the character is Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob Toretto (John Cena), who disappeared from Dom’s life in 1989 after being blamed for a car crash that killed their car-racer dad. In the present day, Dom is living off the grid with Letty and their son when Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) show up to inform them that national security bigwig Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) captured their old antagonist Cipher (Charlize Theron, introduced in “The Fate of the Furious“), but the plane taking her to prison was attacked by rogue agents and crashed in the fictional Central American nation of Montequinto. Cut to Montequinto, where the gang combs through the wreck while dressed as if they’re going to a barbecue. Turns out Jakob is behind the crash and brought Cipher to his boss, a young, rich Northern European psycho named Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen). Otto wants to acquire and assemble two halves of a top secret device that can control the security networks of every country on the planet. He also has a dad who is referred to but never seen. (Cast Mads Mikkelsen in the tenth film, you cowards.)
The espionage aspect gets even more complicated from there. And, as in most entries in the back half of this franchise, none of the twists matter in any meaningful sense, except when they jack into the idea of Dom’s band of brothers and sisters as an improvised family of outsiders, one that sometimes includes people related by blood but more often is based upon shared values, loyalty, and a willingness to die for the tribe. To that end, Diesel and Cena take the “long lost brother who did a heel turn” thing drop-dead seriously. They play it like it’s grand opera. I guess this is the most admirable and risky way to play it—kudos to any actor willing to look ridiculous, which is constantly a risk in this series—even though there are times when you might recall that in other projects, both Cena and Diesel have been funny, and nobody asked them to even smile here. It’s all dark-and-stormy, all the time. After a certain point Cena’s scowling, glowering, and jaw-flexing gets a bit dull. You may start wishing the movie would skip ahead to the big confrontation between Dom and Jakob that Settles All Family Business. The concluding moments between the characters are moving, though, in a World Wrestling Entertainment sort of way.
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