NOC Review: Fun ‘Fast X’ is X-ceptionally Stupid

At this point, I don’t have to preface this with any sort of message warning people about the Fast and Furious franchise being incredibly stupid. I did this for F9 in 2021. And it should be obvious we’re getting more of the same from Fast X. These aren’t good movies. But why in the world would you go in expecting them to be? You go to a Fast and Furious movie looking for guilty-pleasure fun. And honestly, for better or worse, they still deliver on that lowest common denominator sense of entertainment.

Vin Diesel as Dom in Fast X, directed by Louis Leterrier.

Now, will you be dumber for having watched Fast X? The answer is probably. We already know physics will not make a lick of sense in this movie. And dear lord, the writing and direction are atrocious in this (more on that later). But that doesn’t mean that by the end of the movie I didn’t want to see more. There are surprises in this movie that will get even the most casual fans pretty excited for the future. Combined with Jason Momoa’s stellar performance as Dante Reyes and a few fun moments, there’s enough here to justify your reasons for sticking with this franchise to its inevitable bitter, ugly, idiotic end.

This movie, more so than any other film in the franchise between 6 and 9, ties the most heavily into Fast Five; the film arguably considered to be the best of the series. And this was a good move for Fast X because the same sense of ridiculous-but-not-too-stupid outlandish action works better for this franchise than “cars in space” ever did in F9. The story is also stronger too, given it gives us a villain that has legitimate motivations for wanting to kill the “Fast Family.” Where F9 gave us a stupid soap plot about a long-lost-brother we’ve never known about, Fast X‘s retcons seem plausible by comparison. And therefore the story is a bit stronger and more believable (I say that loosely).

Momoa plays Dante Reyes — the son of the villain of Fast Five, Hernan Reyes. After the events of Fast Five, Reyes’ life and fortune were destroyed. And now, after taking several years to plan his revenge, he will stop at nothing to enact vengeance against Dom and his crew, making them suffer horrifically before he kills them. So its up to Dom and the team to take him down. However, after Reyes frames them for an attempted bombing on the Vatican, Dom and the team must also stay ahead of the authorities, while figuring out the way to protect themselves and their entire family.

Charlize Theron as Cipher in Fast X, directed by Louis Leterrier.

Again, this ain’t Shakespeare. But it’s still world’s better than the silly “Dom discovers his long lost brother we’ve never heard of is John Cena” storyline from F9. That being said, that’s where the compliments on the writing stop. Fast X, more than any other installment, has the silliest lines and the most scattered direction of any of the series. Characters appear and disappear whenever it’s convenient. Information is readily available right when someone needs it. And several of them really don’t need to be there.

Take for example, Charlize Theron’s Cipher — a mainstay villain in the franchise since Fate of the Furious. She wants revenge on Reyes for him taking her men, her tech, and her army. Fine. But then later on, there’s a huge twist about Reyes’ character that completely negates any reason or motivation to have Cipher in the movie, because anything Reyes needs can be accommodated thanks to said twist. And if Reyes was as much of a strategic genius as this film depicts him to be, then he wouldn’t have even bothered with Cipher in the first place.

So what then is the point in having Cipher around? Just so we can have a “girl-vs-girl” fight in the movie between Letty and Cipher. That’s the type of movie this is. It’ll sacrifice common sense for action and plot conveniences. But at the same time, who’s counting? People go to these movies knowing full well how dumb they are. And more star power is better than less, as this is a franchise that indulges in “Fast X-cess.”

It’s why we have Oscar winners Brie Larson and Helen Mirren in the cast to conveniently show up and help Dom faster than anyone can say “deus ex machina.” Larson and Mirren are great in their respective roles. But their roles are also really stupid.

Brie Larson as Tess in Fast X, directed by Louis Leterrier.

Larson, in particular, plays Tess, the daughter of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell from Fast 7-9). She’s there to help Dom stay one step ahead of her father’s former agency, and help Letty escape from prison. But when Letty ends up coming up with her own escape plans with Cipher, then what’s left for Tess to do? According to the writers — “Have her show up and shoot someone at some point when we need people shooting bad guys.” It’s an incredibly pointless waste of such talent, but Larson seems to be having fun, so I guess who cares?

Credit where credit is due however, the remarkable thing about this franchise is that somehow, many of the actors still manage to give it their all. Larson and Mirren for one. Momoa for another (more on him soon), and also John Cena, giving a complete 180-performance as Jakob Torretto than he did in F9. The character has essentially gone from uber serious bad guy to Kindergarten Cop in a single movie. It’s not believable at all. But like this movie, it’s still fun to watch. And that’s because Cena is a good, and really enjoyable actor, who excels at lighthearted moments; be they flying out of an airplane in a kayak-sized jet glider, or shooting cannons out of a Frankensteined armored car. Yeah, all that felt stupid just writing it. Imagine watching it. That’s the kind of movie this is obviously. But it knows it, and so do the actors.

But, stupid as it is, my eyes are glued to it all. And part of that is attributed to the film’s MVP, Jason freaking Momoa! His Reyes is just an unstoppable force of chaos and charisma! Momoa is literally giving a gleeful over-the-top, Ledger Joker-esque performance and you are just having a blast with him. He’s silly when he needs to be, which leads to legitimate laughs (as opposed to some of the unintentional ones which we’ll get to), but also menacing when he needs to be. And his character is also 10 steps ahead of everyone. It keeps the movie insanely unpredictable and transforms a mindless street race with really dumb characters into a tense chess match with really dumb characters. If only the movie actually had stakes, which is really difficult to accomplish when no amount of explosions can possibly kill “the family.” That said, Momoa’s charisma oozes in every gleeful scene, providing some desperately needed contradictions to Diesel’s over-serious Dom-face and sullen demeanor.

Jason Momoa as Dante in Fast X, directed by Louis Leterrier.

I’ve always liked Diesel. But frankly, gone are the days of Dom being a playful muscle-headed, cocky jackass, like he was in the original 2001 film. Now he just sort of drifts from scene to scene with a gravely serious look on his face, either angry or concerned, like a constipated gorilla. Crack a smile or a joke, for godssake. We need more Xander Cage in Dom Torretto at this point in the franchise. But thank god Aquaman has our backs!

From an action standpoint, the movie is relentlessly throwing out set pieces for our enjoyment. And I wish I could say they all worked. But unlike this year’s John Wick Chapter 4, it’s a hit and miss hodgepodge of CG ridiculousness. They still serve the purpose of entertainment, with standout scenes like the Rome bomb chase, a shootout on the same bridge as the Fast Five climax, and the climactic Jakob/Dom/Reyes finale. These are a lot of fun, even if they are ridiculous. But apart from those, a lot of the explosions and the fighting blends together after a while. While I was honestly never bored, I also couldn’t describe to you in depth any other scenes apart from those stand outs. There’s a lot of pointless fights, like Tej (Ludacris) vs. Roman (Tyreese Gibson), and Cipher (Charlize Theron) vs Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). And while the latter especially is brutal and fun, there’s just never any point to it other than to extend the runtime of the movie. They’re still entertaining enough. As I said, the standouts above are better than what many action films have to offer. But nothing ever reaches the game changing heights of the scenes from John Wick or even the “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” fight in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 this year.

The other interesting mistake the movie makes is splitting up “the family” into various subplots. It gives things an Infinity War sort of feel, but not in a good way. More than anything it makes things disjointed as hell, with tones shifting all over the place. We’ll spend some time with Cipher and Letty in jail, and mid-fight it’ll just cut away to Tej, Roman, Han, and Ramsay bickering over money. They literally do nothing for most of the movie, and whatever they do accomplish is boring. Then it’ll cut to Reyes painting the nails of the corpses of men he just murdered, which is meant to be a comedic scene (and it actually is darkly funny because, again, Momoa), but then switches to Dom talking to Daniela Melchior’s Isabel about convenient files she just happens to have. Then there will be a street race that harkens back to the early exploitative days of the franchise, that culminates in the random death of a character. It’s a mess. It’s all over the place. And, say what you will about previous installments, but that’s something that never used to really be a problem for those. They always used to flow pretty well. But perhaps it’s franchise newcomer Louis Leterrier’s style versus the previous franchise mainstay Justin Lin’s. But it was certainly distracting for me in a movie I shouldn’t be thinking that much about.

Having said all that, however, I will say nothing in this movie made me think “wow, this is just way too stupid” as I did with F9 and The Fate of the Furious. And neither of those films had performances as strong as that of Momoa’s. Hell even Cena’s performance in this is better than Cena’s self-serious performance in F9. And for this reason, I think it’s fair to say that as sloppy and disjointed as Fast X is, it’s, dare I say it, something of a return to form for the franchise (if you’re into that sort of thing). And it genuinely is a better, or at least more interesting movie, than F9 or Fate of the Furious — again I use the term loosely. But it admittedly got me interested to see what happens next; mostly for cameos rather than story. And for that reason overall, I think fans of the franchise will still enjoy this one. If you’re not a fan, stay away. But if you love this franchise, then shut your brain off and embrace the stupidity.

Overall Score: B-

Fast X hits theaters this Friday, May 19.

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