Directed by David Leitch
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is both smarter and dumber than the blockbuster franchise that spawned it. It’s smarter because it leans into the ridiculousness of the Vin Diesel movies from whose loins it sprang, dispensing with the self-serious family soap opera and declaring itself a screwball comedy. (A very early cameo by Ryan Reynolds as a CIA agent with an unhealthy obsession with Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs—the only actor lithe enough to deliver his punchlines without the encumbrances of bulging muscles or action-hero baggage—should dispel any doubts as to what genre this movie belongs to.) And yet it is also brainless, in that depressing way only a mega-budgeted Hollywood blockbuster can be.
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After a split-screen montage that defines just how opposite the two action behemoths are—Johnson’s Hobbs drinks raw eggs and pumps iron while Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw fastidiously fries an egg and drinks beer; Hobbs calls himself a “cool can of whoop ass” while Shaw says he’s a “champagne problem”—they are thrown together to find a rogue MI6 operative named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, who broke out in Mission: Impossible – Fallout with her cool, smart opaqueness), who is on the run with a world-decimating virus.
Also hot on Hattie’s heels is genetically enhanced mercenary Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who is intent on retrieving the virus for the shadowy organization he works for. First wrinkle: Hattie is Shaw’s sister. Second wrinkle: Hattie has injected the virus into herself, and she only has three days before the virus kills her and (supposedly) annihilates mankind.
Hobbs & Shaw clocks in at a benumbing 135 minutes, and it could have shaved off at least 10 minutes from its running time by eliminating redundancies from its gags. There is a side-by-side brawl in different rooms whose punchline wears out its welcome as Shaw tries to find a henchman from the pile on the floor whose face can open the door at the other end. An electroshock torture sequence goes on for far too long. Mostly, Johnson and Statham spend much of their screen time either one-upping each other in increasingly absurd stunts (a skyscraper rappel that also features an improbable outdoor elevator) or hurling insults at each other (names like “She-Hulk” and “Frodo” fly fast and furious, pun intended). The two trade witticisms with such regularity and ferocity, I’m surprised nobody onscreen just stepped in and said “Why don’t you two just get married already?”
Hobbs & Shaw could have been a more satisfying guilty pleasure if it had taken some time to iron out some kinks in its machinery. That bioengineered virus, for one: Different characters keep telling us how lethal it is, but the movie is too lazy to communicate the stakes by demonstrating what exactly the virus does or by even having its carrier Hattie break into cursory chills. That villain, for another: Lore revels in his genetically engineered superiority (at one point, he even christens himself “Black Superman”), and yet he is probably the only supersoldier whose formidability is undercut by his incompetence, allowing his targets to slip away three times.
The biggest kink of all, strangely enough, is Deckard Shaw. A villain who announced himself at the end of Fast 6with the murder of Sung Kang’s Han, got into fisticuffs with the crew at Fast 7, and was recruited to fight alongside the gang against Charlize Theron in Fast 8, Shaw has evolved into the only contradictory figure in the Fast & Furious mythos: a conflicted criminal with a soft underbelly, but who nonetheless has a crime against the Fast family to answer for. Hobbs & Shaw gives Shaw a huge backstory—as it does Hobbs, albeit a less compelling one—and yet it doesn’t know what to do with this wealth of character exposition.
Or doesn’t even care. Which would be fine if director David Leitch displayed a uniformly competent hand in all the action set pieces. The guy who helmed Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde has his comfort zone firmly planted in the hand-to-hand combat sequences, but he gets more and more wobbly in the car stunts. It all culminates in a helicopter-chained-to-trucks set piece that is so cartoonish in its execution, you can practically see the computer-generated seams. That’s what this buddy comedy, spun off from an increasingly absurd franchise, essentially is: a cartoon of a cartoon.
Photograph from Universal Pictures