F9 Review

Make no mistake. We don’t watch the Fast and Furious movies because they have any resemblance to the real world. For a franchise that I cannot imagine was envisioned to reach nine entries deep, we can park our logic immediately and settle in for a thrill ride. Surprisingly it’s a formula that’s usually worked (certainly at the box office and often with the quality of the product). In F9, the luster has gathered rust. This is the first Fast feature since part 4 that I wouldn’t recommend as a guilty pleasure. We’ve reached the long-lost brother stage of the storyline. We also have characters blasting into outer space. So it’s time to stop being polite about what’s going on in this fading fantasy world.

Returning director Justin Lin (who made parts III-VI) and his cowriter Daniel Casey have swapped out ex-wrestlers turned thespians. Gone is Dwayne Johnson (a result of a feud with Vin Diesel), who brought a jolt starting in Fast Five. Tagging in is John Cena as the aforementioned and previously never mentioned sibling Jakob Toretto. As we are told in overdramatic and overlong flashbacks, he played a role in the late 80s racing death of his father. This doesn’t sit well with brother Dom (Diesel) and the two haven’t been on speaking terms since. Jakob reacts as most would with the family estrangement by becoming an international mercenary and obtaining a deadly computer system that will wreak global havoc. His employer is the son of a dictator (Thue Erstad Rasmussen) who’s working with part 8’s hacker bad girl Cipher (Charlize Theron).

The return of the banished brother causes Dom to interrupt his farm life seclusion with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their 5-year-old son. The band, including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) reassemble for the forthcoming sequences where automobiles do things they have no earthly business doing. Also back are the thought to be dead Han (Sung Kang) and a trio of street racers from Tokyo Drift who are now (somehow) rocket scientists. Jordana Brewster (as Dom and Jakob’s sister Mia) hops a flight home. This is where I’ll address a sensitive issue. When Paul Walker died in 2013, the filmmakers were faced with the unenviable task of dealing with his character Brian who served as co-lead for the previous entries. They handled it deftly in Furious 7. However, in a saga that constantly beats the drum of helping your teammates, the explanation of Brian simply being retired and not taking part in the action strains credibility. We’re told he’s babysitting while wife Mia is away. I know it might seem silly to discuss credibility in a Fast flick, but it is an unfortunate minor distraction.

F9 takes too long to get its motor running. The 143 minute runtime (bogged down by those flashbacks of young Dom and Jakob) is a momentum stopper. Part of the intrigue involves a super powerful magnate (think more than fridge quality grade) that whips anything in its path towards it. It’s cool the first time we see the hurling. And then we witness it again and again. Cena has shown considerable comedic chops elsewhere. That magnetism is nowhere to be found here. Dwayne Johnson is missed as is Jason Statham as sparring partner Shaw. Theron, Kurt Russell as government agent Mr. Nobody, and Helen Mirren as Shaw’s mum are barely seen (though the latter’s brief appearance is kind of a hoot).

What we’re left with is a mopey family dynamic that the franchise didn’t need. Roman’s character brings self-reference to the screenplay, often commenting on the ridiculousness of everything – how come no one ever gets a scratch on them? As I said, that doesn’t matter much when we can mindlessly settle in and enjoy it. F9 doesn’t achieve that like the bulk of its predecessors. Put another way, my tank was half full for parts V-VIII and now it’s half empty. By the time Roman and Tej enter moonwalking territory, it should feel ludicrous in a positive way. Instead we’ve had to slog through over two hours of make it up as you go along nonsense to get there.

** (out of four)

F9 Box Office Prediction

F9 is widely expected to drive traffic into theaters in a way we have not witnessed since late 2019 – before anyone knew what COVID-19 was. The ninth official entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise appears poised to have the largest domestic opening since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a year and a half ago. It opens June 25th after a series of pandemic related delays. Justin Lin returns in the director’s chair for his fifth Fast flick and first since Fast & Furious 6. Long time and newer series regulars returning include Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren (reprising her role from spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron. Newcomers to the mix are John Cena, Michael Rooker, and Cardi B.

Sporting a budget of at least $200 million, F9 has already made a fortune overseas at $270 million and counting. In 2015, Furious 7 nabbed the largest opening of all the pics (by far) at $147 million ($353 million overall). Tragically, part of that can be attributed to audience curiosity as it dealt with the final appearance of Paul Walker following his passing. 2017’s follow-up The Fate of the Furious debuted to $98 million and an eventual $225 million domestic haul (good for third overall in the ennead). Hobbs & Shaw, meanwhile, made $60 million for its start in 2019 with a $173 million final tally.

With capacity issues mostly having fallen by the wayside, F9 will be a test as to just how high first weekends can go in this market. A Quiet Place Part II set the initial benchmark at $57 million over the four-day Memorial Weekend frame. This is anticipated to zoom beyond that. Furious 7 set a mark that any sequel is unlikely to come close to. A debut in the neighborhood of Fast Five ($86 million) is certainly achievable. Yet I still think some multiplex resistance could stall that possibility. I’ll project $60-$70 million is the more likely range. My estimate puts this a few million under the $70 million made by Fast & Furious in 2009.

F9 opening weekend prediction: $64.8 million

Maze Runner: The Death Cure Box Office Prediction

Concluding a trilogy started in 2014, Maze Runner: The Death Cure races into theaters next Friday. Based on the James Dashner series of YA books, the sci-fi action pic stars Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper, and Patricia Clarkson. Wes Ball, who directed the first two installments, returns behind the camera. Reviews are so so thus far with a 40% Rotten Tomatoes score.

The reported $83 million production was originally scheduled for release in February 2017 until an injury suffered by star O’Brien on the set delayed production. The nearly two and a half-year lag time between sequels could be a hindrance to its potential.

In September 2014, the original Runner opened to $32 million with an eventual $102 million domestic haul. Sequel The Scorch Trials arrived one year later to diminishing returns – a $30 million debut and $81 million overall take. Enough of the fan base may stick around, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Death take in about 25% less out of the gate than its predecessor in 2015.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure opening weekend prediction: $22.8 million

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious is our eighth – yes, eighth – installment of a franchise that it would have been ridiculous to imagine there being that many entries. We’re a long way from the original 16 years ago that was sort of a drag racing rip-off of Point Break, or Point Brake as I deemed it in my review. That said, a common thread among the series is its willingness to be knowingly ridiculous while weaving in endless monologues about the importance of family.

The formula took on a different tone in predecessor Furious 7, which admirably managed to deal with the death of franchise stalwart Paul Walker in its conclusion. In that sense, Fate ushers in a new chapter. New characters are introduced, old ones are rehashed, and the level of silliness is brought to a level not quite seen before. Yes, cars go fast here. However, part 8 owes more to James Bond flicks when they were less grim (think Roger Moore era with a quarter billion dollar budget).

As I’ve written in previous Furious critiques, plot is secondary but here’s what you need to know: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has turned on his team. Sort of. He’s being forced to team up with criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), who evades authorities in the air on an invisible plane. See what I mean? Isn’t that the kind of villain 007 might battle in the late seventies? Now on the wrong side of justice, Dominic and Cipher must go against Dom’s “family”, including wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the familiar players played by Dwayne Johnson (whose goofy character is still good for some funny and bizarre moments), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, and more. Part 7’s main villain Jason Statham is more of a team player this time around and even Oscar winner Helen Mirren turns up as his mum. Statham is granted a fight scene towards the end where he has to be delicate with some cargo he’s carrying (you’ll see what I mean). The scene is genuinely humorous and quite well choreographed.

The plot is all an excuse for the massive action spectacles and globe trotting we’ve become accustomed to and we have it here in Cuba, New York City, and Russia. The climactic sequence set on Russian frozen tundra employs the usual expensive vehicles, but we also are treated to tanks and submarines. Remember the ice action in Pierce Brosnan’s Bond flick Die Another Day? Think that, but it’s not embarrassingly awful.

Our Furious sagas rise and fall on the ability for us to check our brains at the Universal logo. By the third act, I’d succumbed once again to its cheesy charms. Maybe one day this series will truly stall like it briefly did in 2006’s Tokyo Drift. Not yet though and that’s some kind of testament to its durability.

*** (out of four)

The Fate of the Furious Box Office Prediction

Universal Pictures’ billion dollar franchise keeps rolling along as The Fate of the Furious
parks into multiplexes on Easter Weekend. The eighth (yes, eighth) street racing action spectacle finds Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray taking over behind the camera. Fate finds the majority of thespians associated with the series returning – Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacis, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, and Nathalie Emmanuel. We also have a pair of Oscar winners joining the mix with Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren, as well as Scott Eastwood (whose dad has won some Oscars). Of course, this is the first picture (excluding 2006’s Tokyo Drift) without Paul Walker, who died during the filming of Furious 7.

When Diesel and Walker returned to the franchise in 2009’s Fast and Furious, it sparked a box office resurgence that’s never let up. That fourth entry debuted to $70 million with an overall $155M domestic haul. Follow-up Fast Five in 2011 opened to $86 million ($209M eventual tally). 2013’s Fast & Furious 6 made $97 million out of the gate and $238M eventually. And 2015’s Furious 7 easily set the high mark with a $147 million premiere and $353M overall.

The grosses of Furious 7 were likely (and sadly) expanded due to it being Walker’s last on-screen appearance. Therefore it stands to reason that Fate probably won’t reach the heights of that predecessor. That said, this looks to be a franchise that is still going strong and it would be surprising if it didn’t post the second largest bow thus far.

I’ll predict the fate of this is an opening gross in the low to mid $120M range.

The Fate of the Furious opening weekend prediction: $122.7 million

For my Gifted prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/04/09/gifted-box-office-prediction/

Furious 7 Movie Review

The adrenaline fused junk food soap opera that is the Fast and Furious franchise has met with real life in its seventh installment, Furious 7. The pic faced the unenviable task of addressing the death of one its signature stars Paul Walker, who lost his life in a car accident in 2013. The filmmakers handle it in a delicate and touching way at the conclusion and manage to give fans of the franchise what they’ve come to anticipate from this multicultural action fest. It’s got everything you’d expect: ridiculous and often cringe inducing one liners, incredibly choreographed sequences with cars doing things they have no business doing, beautiful scenery on both the human and geographical scale, and lots of dialogue about family (which hits closer than normal considering the events with Walker).

The plot of these proceedings is always secondary, of course. Furious 7 actually picks up after the events of Tokyo Drift, the series third entry and its weakest. This would be after the death of team member Han and our new villain is Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of part 6’s dearly departed villain Owen. Deckard is out for revenge and that means he’s targeting the whole crew, led by Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s still suffering from her amnesia as a result of her near death in part 4. The other usual suspects return including Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Jordana Brewster. And there’s Dwayne Johnson back as Hobbs, the gloriously over the top federal agent who is responsible for some of the silliest bits of dialogue. One notable newcomer is Kurt Russell as a shadowy government agent and the veteran performer seems to be having a lot of fun.

Where the Furious movies succeed or fail depends mostly on the action set pieces and 7 has some dandies. The whole midsection set in Abu Dhabi gives us some real thrills, particularly a sequence involving a multi million dollar car crashing through multiple buildings. The eventual climax back in the homeland of Los Angeles involves predator drones, a pretty far cry from a franchise that used to be concerned with just car tricks. When part 5 was released, the Onion newspaper hilariously pontificated that its screenwriter Chris Morgan was actually a kindergartner. He continues to write these pictures and by my math, he’d be in fourth grade now. Sometimes it still feels as if an elementary student is writing the words here, but that’s not really the point. In Furious world, what counts is the adventure on the screen. And there’s plenty of excitement that James Wan (a new director to the series) conjures up here. It’s pretty simple. If you like this franchise, you’ll like what you see the seventh time around. And you might be a little surprised at how just a completely unsubtle series handles the loss of one its biggest stars with a subtle touch.

*** (out of four)