‘F9: The Fast Saga’: The series jumps the shark (again) and something much bigger in the 3rd act

“F9: The Fast Saga” (2021) – Saga is the right word when describing “The Fast and the Furious” series.  Director Justin Lin’s “F9: The Fast Saga” is actually the 10th film if you include “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019).  Ten films dating back to 2001 is quite the cinematic run, and by comparison, Hollywood released six James Bond, seven “Star Wars”, and four “Star Trek” movies over the same period.  Thankfully, only one “Cats” film reached theatres, but I digress.

According to BoxOfficeMojo, these films have raked in over 1.6 billion dollars worldwide, and throughout the last two decades, cast members have come and gone.  Wonder Woman herself Gal Gadot was a regular in four F&F flicks.  Eva Mendes, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Gina Carano, Luke Evans, Jason Statham, and many more stars made memorable appearances.  Paul Walker tragically passed away at age 40 in 2013 but was featured posthumously 2015’s “Furious 7”. 

Yes, this race ‘em up, crash ‘em up, shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up series – led by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto as the face of the franchise – has muscled its way into a comfortable niche in movie theatres.  The films, especially the later ones, also frequently flaunt over-the-top action sequences that have regularly defied physics.  More like laugh at science’s face, with a wink and a smile, of course, as Neil deGrasse Tyson might be somewhere in the universe shaking his head.

Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Jakob (John Cena)

Justin Lin hasn’t shaken his love for the franchise, as “F9: The Fast Saga” is his fifth directorial effort, and it could be the biggest.  For those who think that they saw it all in “The Fate of the Furious” (2017), when our heroes raced on ice and tangled with a submarine (which Roman (Tyrese Gibson) reflects upon in this film), Lin tops himself during a 3rd act sequence, which will not be revealed here.  Granted, the moment – featuring Roman and Tej (Ludacris) – is way beyond ludicrous (couldn’t resist), but then again, who cares, right?

In this big-screen chapter, Dominic, his son, and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living off the grid among some rolling hills last seen on “Little House on the Prairie” (1974 – 1983).  Still, their help is needed when Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) plane goes down in Montequinto and the middle of a military-governed zone.  I’m not sure where Montequinto is for the record, but according to Google, it’s a neighborhood outside of Seville, Spain.  Well, this definitely is not that Spanish suburb.  Anyways, our gang arrives, with a military Hummer or two, a motorcycle, and a muscle car, finds one half of a futuristic weapon, and is then chased by a faceless militia attempting to acquire the said device through the rugged, rural, mountainous terrain.  Naturally, gunfire and explosions fly everywhere around our heroes for some visual insanity.  For good measure, they drive through a minefield and must decide if a wooden bridge – that looks as steady as the one featured in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) – can be crossed.

Holy smokes!  Does Lin have a one billion dollar budget, and where does the story go from here?  Well, it turns out that Dominic’s brother Jakob (John Cena) is behind the carnage, as he’s transformed into a “super spy” sometime between 1989 and 2021.  We know that it’s been 32 years, because Lin and screenwriter Daniel Casey repeatedly flashback (ad nauseam and about five too many times) to 1989.  Big-and-little brother dynamics cause a rift, and now Jakob has turned into a bodybuilder-like Blofeld, and it’s up to Dominic and company to foil his plans to rule the world…or something.

Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster)

It’s all just nonsense, but that’s the expectation when walking into a “F&F” movie these days. For fans craving spectacular stunts, Lin, Dominic, Letty, Roman, Tej, Mia (Jordana Brewster), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and a friend from the past do not disappoint.  The film offers – by my count – five such moments that feature vehicle-driven (pardon the pun) or hand-to-hand combat craziness.  Yes, Dominic and Jakob rumble, as one would anticipate, which includes diving out of a 5-floor window – with zero regard for self-preservation – and crashing onto a moving truck.  I saw a screening with an audience of critics, and the on-screen absurdity delivers more than a few sarcastic chuckles throughout the picture, but the gadget eye candy scores an 11, and massive electromagnets are the grand prize.

Still, you’ll probably feel the bloated runtime. For example, other than the wild opening of Montequinto minefield mayhem, our pals hang out and kick around exposition during the rest of the first act, at least it seems that way.  So yes, “F9” has pacing issues.  As impressive and cartoonish as the physical conflicts are, the movie spends too many precious minutes delivering unimportant, cliché discourse. 

“I got this.” 

“We’re all risking something.” 

“I (did) what I had to do.”

“I will stop you.”

Somewhere, John Wayne has tears in his eyes.

Dominic (Diesel)

Indeed, the familiar, diverse cast is likable, and it’s enjoyable revisiting old pals, but they deserve a better narrative than this.  After the film, I spoke with friend, and she asked where next film would go from here?  Mars, perhaps?  It’s possible, but we both thought that a stripped-down basic narrative would be awfully welcome and refreshing.  How about a 90-minute picture featuring a simple hostage extraction, a safe-cracking operation, or a street race?  Just one race.

Count me in.  I’ll plunk down 11 dollars for that ticket.

Like “Moonraker” (1979), “Die Another Day” (2002), and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008), the series has jumped the shark…again, which shouldn’t be a news flash.  But, hey, they keep making Bond films, albeit with a new lead, and a new Indiana Jones flick is shooting now. That’s where we are.  So, grab soda and popcorn and enjoy the ride, or shake your head in frustration.   

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits: Universal Pictures

Note – Jump the Shark is a phrase first coined when Fonzie jumped a shark on the television show “Happy Days”. It became a website that its creator John Hein subsequently sold.

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