[REVIEW] ‘HOBBS & SHAW’ a double dose of stupid and fun

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW

Rated PG-13, 135 minutes.
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Dwayne JohnsonJason Statham, Vanessa KirbyIdris Elba, Eiza González, Eddie Marsan, Cliff Curtis and Helen Mirren

The FAST & FURIOUS movies are dumb. Like really, really dumb. The audience knows this. Critics know this. Yet when it comes to entertainment, they deliver the goods better than the postal service. FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW is the ninth movie in the franchise and the first spin-off. Hit the brakes and read that again. Nine movies. That’s the same number of movies Quentin Tarantino has on his resume. Continuing down this road, you’d think the series would have run out of gas by now. But since the release of 2011’s FAST FIVE, the movies have redlined and become mega blockbusters on the world stage.

Long gone are the days of seeing street racers hustling to make a buck. Stealing DVD players, hijacking cargo, or transporting a bank vault through the streets of Rio as if it were a sled steered by reindeer hopped up on bath salts. Although, that last action best describes the direction the series has taken. Less brains, more wild and crazy stunts.

Ridiculous title aside, HOBBS & SHAW is brainless and bombastic in the best/worst possible way. With a clipboard and pen, you can go down the page and put a check next to everything audiences want to see. For starters, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham as a pair of alpha males that have as much in common as them holding a hairdryer and comb. Add some physics-defining car chases (which is where the series really earns its money) and a knock-down, drag-out with a villain that introduces himself to the audience as “bad guy,” and now we are starting to smell what the filmmakers are cooking.

That the director is David Leitch – of JOHN WICK, ATOMIC BLONDE, and DEADPOOL 2 – shouldn’t surprise. He was there just as the Keanusance was taking shape, with Keanu Reeves playing dog’s best friend. Under his direction, Charlize Theron was a kick-ass spy (not a ditzy blonde) that preferred vodka over martinis. And then there’s Canada’s gift to the world Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, the fourth-wall-breaking and wise-cracking superhero he was born to play.     

So, Leitch in the driver’s seat for HOBBS & SHAW just makes sense. Chris Morgan, who has been writing the franchise since 2006’s TOKYO DRIFT, is back but this time he gets an assist from Drew Pearce, who has a history of collaborating with filmmakers that know a thing or two about buddy flicks (Shane Black and LETHAL WEAPON) and global intrigue (Christopher McQuarrie and the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series).

Even if you go into the movie blind, having never seen any of the previous FAST & FURIOUS flicks, the opening fight scene pretty much highlights what to expect from the two alphas. As Luke Hobbs, Johnson threatens a man in a tattoo parlor only to leave a cute message for the local authorities. As Deckard Shaw, Statham subdues baddies in a nightclub with a champagne bottle before dangling his prey outside a window. Their introduction is quick and effective. And while their personalities don’t mesh, their names sound so good together. Hobbs and Shaw would be like Lennon and McCarthy if John and Paul decided to quit songwriting and join the British Special Forces.

But in terms of story, HOBBS & SHAW needlessly complicates what should be a simple plot of a bad guy wanting a genetically-engineered virus so he can save the world by killing those not worthy to live. So Thanos meets WAYNE’S WORLD. Add a cryptic, clandestine organization that is pulling the strings, whose unseen leader is probably an A-lister who has yet to be named for the eventual sequel, and the pieces start to come together. This is a spin-off that wants to create its own separate mythology, where its only connection are characters that appeared in the FAST & FURIOUS movies. The prime villain is Idris Elba as Brixton, a former British op turned terrorist with special powers. The fact that he is described as both Black Superman and The Terminator pushes the franchise beyond the laws of physics and into the realm of science fiction. Disappointingly, Brixton doesn’t fly, but his neurological makeup allows him to quickly assess human anatomy and physiology during physical confrontations, much like a terminator. 

To ensure that this isn’t a “no girls allowed” action movie, we get an estrogen boost from Vanesa Kirby. She more than holds her own in a room full of boys, playing MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (yep, Deckard’s sister). Tasked with safeguarding the virus from Brixton and his puppet masters, Hattie decides to inject herself before it can get into the wrong hands. Now the clock is ticking – in 72 hours the contagions will become airborne and the virus will spread. Enter Hobbs and Shaw to find her and save the world.  

Okay, I get that HOBBS & SHAW wants to feel like an ‘80s action buddy film with some contemporary flair. Just give us a reason to care. No way they would kill off Johnson and Statham. Nor Vanessa Kirby. She is the movie’s MVP, even if she resorts to pulling a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II with the sought-after virus and becomes a plot device. The filmmakers make sure to include the “family” theme, which has become a through-line for the entire franchise. But the emotional stakes are not present when it should matter most.

Still, you’re not here for family reunions you’re here for a live-action cartoon. HOBBS & SHAW is precisely that. It is junk food for the brain in a summer that has mostly lacked such escapism. This is a new direction for the series, and it nearly mistakes the brake for the accelerator. While not insulting its target audience, die-hard fans might see the fuel gauge nearing E.

Grade: C+

HOBBS & SHAW is now playing nationwide.

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