Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Directed by David Leitch
It’s probably best not to wonder how one movie franchise presents another, but it’s not a film you should think that hard about anyway.
That said, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (henceforth “F&FP:H&S”) starts with what seems to be an initially rather labored cover of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” performed by YUNGBLUD. This may seem insignificant but it was tough getting into a movie while wondering about the inclusion of a song about a bottle being sung by somebody who doesn’t consistently enunciate the letter T – bottle apparently having no T’s and eternity having one (the first one, in case you’re guessing). Which may sound like linguistic snobbery but the song itself seemed so out of place in the moment, as something unrelated happened onscreen (somebody stealing a very virus-y virus to avoid somebody else stealing it), but I was overly fixated on this cover of a song I have otherwise always previously enjoyed.
At the end of the film, spoiler alert, it jumps back into the livelier end of the same song – at which point I suddenly found myself digging it enormously, perhaps largely because I hadn’t much dug anything in between.
“F&FP:H&S” is like the outcome of constant audience polling in which somebody determines that people apparently like physics (and biology) defying action and copious witty banter – and so they decide to make a film that doesn’t contain anything else. So this is 2 hours and 17 minutes of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham arguing frenetically about who’s stronger, better, smarter, faster, furiouser, etc. interspersed with fighting, fast (and furious) driving, and racing around the world as though it’s a small village. And if you’re not watching banter or action, you’re probably watching both. Unless you’re watching Dame Helen Mirren, international treasure, in a prison scene which the script supervisor/continuity coordinator apparently missed.
Much of the banter centers around the physicality and style of the two actors and their respective characters. The running gag essentially being that Hobbs (Johnson) is large and therefore like a bull in a china shop, a “can of whoopass,” where Shaw (Statham) by comparison is suave and sophisticated and a “champagne problem.” Except that Statham seems miscast in that persona – it’s like we’re being asked to see him like a James Bond figure when he seems more like a Bond villain, maybe a Bond villain who gets taken out in the prologue to remind us how suave and sophisticated, and efficient, Bond is. Johnson, despite his vast physique, seems the more gentle and mannered of the two, contradicting much of the dialog.
There’s also a plot: Secure the virus. Although I may be over complicating that.
There are other people who want the virus, of course, chief among them a disembodied voice who pulls the strings for the enhanced warrior villain character, Brixton (Idris Elba, an actual Bond contender). Brixton has a pet motorcycle, high performance upgrades including a metal spine and Google Glass eyes, and a wardrobe consisting largely of body armor despite apparently having Kevlar skin that can pass through solid objects without scratching. Standard enhanced warrior villain kind of stuff. (Establishing a black character in London and calling him Brixton is a little like doing the same in Los Angeles and calling him Compton.)
Rounding out the primary cast is Vanessa Kirby as Hattie, who is first a mystery character, then established, then seemingly unknown again in a single scene that seems out of sequence, then back into well established territory for the duration (enough perhaps to have expanded the title still further). And she can hold her own in the fighting and the bantering. But it’s also one of those films that cuts from scene to scene, abruptly, and so for example we go from a fight sequence between Hobbs and Hattie in which it seems unlikely he could subdue her enough to escort her across the street, followed immediately by a scene in which he’s interrogating her having apparently transported her across town to the agency office building without further incident.
Other segues involve vaster distances being traveled with minimal difficulty or passage of time. We’ve seen this before in films like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), in which Hong Kong seemed East Africa adjacent. But in “F&FP:H&S” the travel agents are working overtime as not just the heroes and villains zip from time zone to time zone, with ease, but entire fleets of modified Range Rovers and an attack helicopter are whisked around the world. By the end, the Old Kaloa Sugar Mill on Kauai is standing in for a classic car and motorcycle chop shop in Samoa, and time and distance have become fond memories.
“F&FP:H&S” is pure summer popcorn silliness. It’s not a film that stands up to close scrutiny – nor does it expect to. It delivers ridiculous action and almost equally ridiculous dialog pausing only momentarily, for example, for a considerate closeup of a car’s badge for anybody wondering what they had just been watching careening around London. But it’s primarily a franchise spinoff attempting to establish another standalone franchise – and it seems likely to succeed, however mismatched the parts.