Hollywood does not know when — or even how — to pump the brakes when audiences ask for more. The people demand bigger, faster, stronger sequels (which doesn’t always mean “better”), and a studio’s job is to make money, not to protect the integrity of a franchise. However, few franchises exemplify the grotesque extremes of a studio’s obsession with its bottom line than the Fast and the Furious films, which started from humble beginnings and have since transformed into CG-driven monstrosities.
Fast X marks the tenth installment of this franchise — because an “X” is way cooler and more mysterious than a “10” — and the Vin Diesel vehicle spins so wildly out of control that it comes close to doing a full U-turn from preposterously bad to preposterously entertaining. But this star-studded sequel doesn’t quite get there, as its bloated story and outlandish effects overheat the engine well before the finish line.
Diesel reprises his role as Dominic Toretto, an ex-con turned government helper turned family man. Michelle Rodriguez returns as his badass wife, Letty, while Rita Moreno makes a brief appearance as Abuela Toretto, continuing her late-career renaissance. Dom’s all-important family includes his loyal crewmembers, including Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris), as well as begrudging collaborators such as his own brother, Jakob (John Cena) and former villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Oscar winner Charlize Theron also returns as Cipher, one of Dom’s principal antagonists, though she waves a white flag here, as the two of them share an enemy — Dante Reyes, the son of the drug lord Dom & Co. ousted back in Fast Five. Jason Momoa plays Dante, and he represents an exciting, high-octane addition to the cast.
Though the ensemble is certainly impressive, its sheer size is one of many “over the top” problems that plague Fast X, which simply runs out of enough road to service all these characters. The script by longtime franchise director Justin Lin and Dan Mazeau is purportedly focused on Dom’s attempts to stop Dante’s quest for revenge and Cipher’s bid for world domination, but the story quickly devolves into a series of vignettes showcasing the star power of these various A-listers at the expense of any real cohesion, or even continuity. Together with director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me), the writers also include a series of throwback references to prior Fast films, curiously believing that the franchise’s fans come for the story rather than the eye-popping VFX.
Of course, Fast X delivers in droves in the action department, with an extended car racing sequence in the streets and hills of Rio de Janeiro a bright spot amidst the chaos of the film’s many excesses. There is, in fact, something cool and slick about Bryan Tyler‘s latest score for the franchise, offering a combination of electric sounds and heavy bass that blend perfectly with revving engines and squealing tires. Stephen Windon‘s cinematography is also in fine form here, as he takes advantage of the film setting by showcasing the appealing panoramas of the Brazilian coastline.
On the other hand, Fast X‘s 140-minute runtime is completely excessive, though excess is all but the hallmark of this franchise. Remember when the previous film, F9, decided to abandon all pretense of restraint — even for an action movie — by sending its characters into space in a car? Yeah, after that, all bets were off. Fast X and its eye-rolling exaggerations demonstrate why self-control is important, even in a franchise known for its over-the-top indulgence.
Much like a superhero movie in which perpetual invincibility lowers the stakes, the Fast and the Furious filmmakers — after the horrific death of series star Paul Walker — became beholden to fan demands that characters stay well past their welcome. The resulting need for each of them to one-up the other — both the characters and the movies themselves — has made these films too much to bear. Pushing the envelope is one thing, but pushing it off a cliff — and still surviving, naturally — is another entirely. And when it becomes clear that Fast X is but the opening chapter of a planned trilogy — the supposed conclusion to these stories — then the wheels really do come off.
Finally, it does not help that some of Fast X’s stars seem to be phoning it in, and have been doing so for at least a few sequels. Moreno shines, of course, lending her characteristic enthusiasm and lovable wit to the sequel, while Momoa’s performance is a breath of fresh air, as he’s relishing the chance to play ever so slightly against type. But the others — particularly Diesel, Rodriguez, and Theron — are clearly over it, as all three play their characters in a morose, forlorn fashion that begs the question of why audiences should care when the stars themselves do not.
Of course, this franchise has become review-proof, so its devoted fanbase will prevent Fast X from crashing and burning at the box office, and Universal will take an inevitable victory lap as it dreams up ways for the Fast X sequel to top its bonkers predecessor. But the studio would benefit from making a pit stop to give this badly-damaged vehicle a tune-up, one that hopefully injects some small degree of sanity into the franchise, which might give it a slightly broader appeal while preserving the original core idea behind these increasingly silly movies.
Fast X is now playing in theaters worldwide courtesy of Universal Pictures.