Fast and Furious 9, M. 143 minutes. 2 stars
Vin Diesel is an unlikely movie star. He has quite the rig, built like a tradie, and quite a mug, a bit like a dropped pie. I wouldn't say he can act brilliantly, but he has a certain immobile panache in his deportment.
He's convinced enough people that this ads up to action hero, because he has a series of successful box office franchises under his belt, beginning with the Aussie SciFi film Pitch Black that begat the Riddick films, xXx that begat the Xander Cage series, he voices Groot on the Guardians of the Galaxy series and an unbelievable nine of these muscle car movies.
While he might not be your classically trained thespian, he is an impressive self-marketer.
What impressed me the most about his performance in this latest Furious instalment is that, as one of the series' producers, he has built almost the perfect role to take him into old age and fund his retirement. By this, I mean his character spends most of the film behind the wheel of a car. And by this, I mean he is being paid tens of millions of dollars to sit in a chair while stunt people and CGI nerds make it look like he is all about the action and movement.
This is possibly the cleverest bit of positioning in contemporary cinema. I am genuinely impressed. He could still be doing that in his 90s.
Nine films into The Fast and the Furious, I have to say it isn't worth really getting into the backstory. You've either watched them already, or you were impressed enough with the giant electromagnets in the film's trailer that you've decided to get over two decades of telling friends "You won't catch me watching one of those movies" and check it out.
Vin Diesel plays Dominic Toretto, a monosyllabic muscle-man mechanic who loves cutting the sleeves off his t-shirts. He's obviously had an adventurous past because when a mysterious car pulls up to the remote farm house he shares with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), they both pull out some serious fire power.
The unwanted arrivals are actually their old friends Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), come to ask Dom and Letty to join them saving the world.
The danger the world is in has something to do with a science-type gadget that can infect computer code and allow its owner to control world military system, and despite the fact that there are more than two million armed forces in the NATO countries, 70,000 United Nations Peacekeepers, Interpol, Mossad, and the FBI, apparently only a handful of spunky former car thieves have what it takes to save the world from nuclear destruction. All of those other guys aren't even invited.
Behind the threat are German Billionaire brat Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), cyberhacker and evil genius from earlier films Cipher (Charlize Theron) and - cue the dramatic music - Dom's brother Jacob (John Cena), who has never been mentioned once before across eight earlier films.
It's kind of hard to understand the dialogue in this film. That's not much of a loss because the screenplay isn't witty or clever and you don't feel like you've missed much when the blokes don't actually open their mouths or move their lips when they say their lines. But Diesel's Dom says the word "family" a lot. As the films have changed their focus over 20 years, their consistent theme is about building a family of pals around you to have your back.
Diesel the producer obviously takes this to heart because he gives a paycheque to a handful of his pals, with Helen Mirren enjoying a short scene, and plenty of characters from the earlier films returning, one of whom most definitely died in an earlier episode.
He obviously knows what audiences want, because he also blows so much stuff up that you almost don't notice the unearthly physics of the action scenes, and that screenplay I mentioned before.
I want to say a few hundred cars get smashed, crashed, blown up, driven off cliffs, blasted into space and propelled and repelled through the air thanks to a series of giant electromagnets. Much of this is completely needless but also completely impressive.
Despite the film's many flaws, I did love it as pure spectacle, and I may have hugged those corners on the drive home like Cole Trickle.