Review: F9 – The Fast Saga

Score: B

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster

Running Time: 145 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

It may be hard to remember now, but this series started out as a Point Break riff, with a gang stealing DVD players instead of robbing banks. But such low stakes are firmly in the rear view, as this franchise has had its ever-expanding crew save the world at least three times so far. (Four, if you count the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw.)

F9 continues the "more is more" mantra the franchise has had for a decade now. But after peaking with the fifth and sixth entries, the series has been stuck in neutral. To be sure, they're not bad. But like the numerous superhero movies we get now, they follow a formula that's never deviated from. Start with an overly complicated plot and bad dialogue. Add some incredible setpieces, a few wisecracks, a speech about family, a bad guy who becomes a good guy, and wash it all down with a few Coronas.

For a series that pushes its familial aspects, I've always been drawn to the ridiculous action, not the poorly drawn characters. And it feels like a cheat for a movie this deep in to ret-con an entirely new, evil Toretto sibling, but that's just what it does. The larger-than-life John Cena plays the previously unknown Jacob, who left home after the on-track death of their pro racer father Jack. Even if this whole plot is overly constructed, these flashbacks are quite effective. They also feature Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), and you can never have too much Michael Rooker.

Once again, there's a Maguffin: a device nicknamed Project Ares. Once again, if it falls into the wrong hands, the owner could take over the world. And once again, the crew hops all over the globe to stop Jacob, who's teamed up with Cipher (a returning Charlize Theron). There's a fantastic car chase on an island, a rooftop foot chase in Edinburgh, and an attempt to flip an armored truck. The latter would feel more impressive if it hadn't already been pulled off in The Dark Knight and Deadpool 2. Still, the vehicular mayhem is better than the last two films, since franchise mainstay Justin Lin has returned to the director's chair.

The film definitely delivers on the expectations of its fanbase, but once again it could have been something more. As seen in films like Blockers and Trainwreck, Cena is a much more enjoyable presence tweaking his image instead of playing it straight. He's completely humorless here, but of course effective in his fight scenes. But like many of the film's flaws, a lot is forgiven because it's constantly exciting and never a drag. But most importantly, they brought Han (Sang Kung) back from the dead. He's the best character, and I was thrilled. (Though imagine how much better it would be if the trailers hadn't already given this away.)

F9 is about as far from the series' roots as you can get – literally, two characters go to space! – but still a blast.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.