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CURIOUS ABOUT ‘THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS’?

It should come as no surprise that this is a big, dumb movie. It’s also old news that the series which began with The Fast and the Furious in 2001 has almost nothing to do with illegal street racing any more. Screenwriter Chris Morgan has turned the recurring characters into archetypes and the action into gargantuan, computer-generated set-pieces that have all the credibility of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Audiences seem to enjoy this reboot of the original premise, however, so there seems no reason for anyone to steer these Furious films in a different direction.

But even the most diehard devotee may have difficulty accepting Charlize Theron as a nasty, psychopathic terrorist…or buying into the concept of nuclear weapons as the ultimate tool for a showdown between Vin Diesel and his latest nemesis.

Believe it or not, Diesel turns his back on the people he cares about most—his much-vaunted family—and becomes the puppet of a world-class villain. She, in turn, will stop at nothing to wield the kind of power that will bring nations to their knees. She makes James Bond villains look like Halloween trick-or-treaters.

This would all be laughable if the film didn’t take itself so seriously. Likable performers like Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Tyrese Gibson are playing off the good will they’ve established in earlier episodes of this protracted saga. There is nothing vaguely resembling character development in the screenplay. Dwayne Johnson’s character makes no sense as he spouts a stream of action-movie catchphrases. Only Jason Statham gets a break from the routine in the final portion of the picture.

A breath of fresh air comes in the person of Kurt Russell, reprising his role as government agent Mr. Nobody from Furious 7. He reads his lines with pizzazz and has a smile on his face from start to finish, as if he’s the only one who’s in on this joke of a story. Scott Eastwood does a decent job as his lieutenant, who endures a constant flow of abuse because he goes by the book—unlike everyone else onscreen.

Director F. Gary Gray proved himself a superior action filmmaker years ago with Set It Off and The Italian Job. I wish he could find another property as worthy of his talent as Straight Outta Compton, but everybody has to make a living.

After more than two hours of logic-defying sights and sounds and two-dimensional characters, I was happy to see The Fate of the Furious come to an end. Yet I fear the series will just keep going and going. No one cares what any critic has to say about a movie like this that has transformed itself into a cash cow.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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