The eighth entry in “The Fast and The Furious” franchise, “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray’s “The Fate of the Furious” (*** OUT OF ****) takes demolition derby derring-do to delirious heights, with audacious, high-octane automotive anarchy like you’ve never seen. Although it doesn’t generate the emotional gravitas that fueled “Furious 7” in the wake of Paul Walker’s tragic death, “The Fate of the Furious” still delivers slam-bang, super-charged spectacle with speed and style. Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Luke Evans, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Elsa Pataky reprise their roles and absorb the slack. Franchise newcomer Charlize Theron gives this larger-than-life yarn an electrifying jolt as an ultra-cyber-terrorist. She qualifies as the equivalent of James Bond’s nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the “Furious” franchise, and our heroes struggle to set aside their differences so they can neutralize her and save the world. Cipher wants to make the super-powers accountable collectively with the acquisition of some of their WMDs. Unfortunately, the filmmakers keep Theron confined too often to her tricked-out jet that would make Edward Snowden drool with envy.
Unlike previous “Furious” installments, “The Fate of the Furious” plumbs the past for its major surprise: Dominic Toretto’s treacherous betrayal of both his friends and family. The revelation of Toretto’s treachery isn’t as startling as the treachery itself. Let’s chalk it up to the secret life of franchise characters or what happened that neither we know nor more importantly what Dom doesn’t know that prompts his duplicity. If you haven’t seen “Fast Five” (2011), you may be confused, while die-hard “Furious” aficionados will remember a similar story-line in “Fast & Furious 6” when Letty went rogue. Despite its stunt-driven, B-movie mayhem, “The Fate of the Furious” has something to say about computerized automotive technology that unscrupulous cyber-terrorists like Cipher could exploit. Long-time “Furious” scenarist Chris Morgan’s farfetched but exciting screenplay should make insurance companies, motorists, and passengers wary of computer-equipped vehicles without safeguards that can be hacked. Mind you, getting carjacked is bad enough, but it is entirely something else to be carjacked by your own vehicle. “Furious 8” utilizes this provocative premise with pizzazz galore.
“The Fate of the Furious” unfolds in sunny Havana, Cuba, where Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez of “Girlfight”) are enjoying their honeymoon. The franchise has been burning rubber since 2001 so it was inevitable the lovebirds would tie the knot. Predictably, the action warms up with an exhilarating street race between Dom and an impudent Cuban contender Raldo (Celestino Cornielle of “Nasty Piece of Work”) who thinks he cannot be defeated. He wants to repossess a ramshackle ride from another driver for lack of payment. Not only is Fernando (newcomer Janmarco Santiago) the owner who fell behind on his payments, but he is also one of Dom’s Cuban cousins. Dom challenges Raldo to a race with Fernando’s scrap-heap jalopy. Director F. Gary Gray flaunts his style all the way to the finish line with this harrowing little steeplechase, and Dom wins Raldo’s respect. Dom’s ride literally turns into a space vehicle re-entering orbit with its engine ablaze like an asteroid as he careens Fernando’s crate backwards, like Burt Reynolds did in “Hooper” (1978), to keep from being cooked alive.
Meantime, Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson of “Central Intelligence”) assembles his team to perform the impossible. Hobbs’ superiors warn him he’ll do time if he is nabbed. Naturally, Dom and his “Furious” bunch buckle up for action. Something inexplicable, however, has affected Dom since he encountered a skinny blonde with dreadlocks in Havana. This inscrutable dame, Cipher (Charlize Theron of “Mad Max: Fury Road”), showed him something on a cell phone that shocked him. Moreover, she uses it to blackmail our hero. Basically, Hobbs’ mission goes sideways as Dom turns “rogue,” double-crosses Hobbs, and steals a top-secret EMP device for Cipher. The EMP device can blackout all communication in a city and make it comparable to a day in the Stone Age. Hobbs lands in prison where he clashes with his old rival, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham of “The Transporter” trilogy), and the two taunt each other until they manage to break out. The anonymous government agent who reunited the team in “Furious 7,” Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell of “Tombstone”), had a hand in engineering their escape. Dom’s old team signs up to work with Hobbs and Deckard and catch Dom. Mr. Nobody reveals that Dom’s new accomplice is a mastermind computer hacker who flies around in her own AWACS-equipped jet.
Since the departure of Paul Walker’s character, the producers have replaced him essentially with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. If you saw “Furious 7,” you know how much these two titans abhor each other. Mr. Nobody orders them to shake and make up. Our heroes barrel off to New York City, where Cipher has dispatched Dom to snatch a nuclear football from the Russian Minister of Defense. Essentially, nuclear football isn’t a pigskin, but rather an emergency suitcase that contains the launch codes for a nuclear attack. Cipher hacks into every car with a computer to create pandemonium so Dom can locate the limo and steal the apparatus. Hundreds of cars plunge like lemmings from high-rise parking lots so the Russian Defense Minister remains trapped in a traffic jam. This scene alone is worth the price of admission! Afterward, Cipher sends Dom to Russia with the EMP to disable a nuclear submarine so she can hack into it and use it to launch her WMDs.
Preposterous pabulum from start to finish, “The Fate of the Furious” never runs out of steam during its adrenaline-laced 136 minutes. Eventually, you know Dom will swap sides as soon as he can, and Cipher’s grand scheme will collapse. Not surprisingly, our heroes dodge the lots of bullets and rockets simply because they’re virtuous while each colossal explosion serves to reduce the ranks of villains. “The Fate of the Furious” yields nonstop thrills.