Fast & Furious 9 (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Another family problem….

My mind kept going somewhere while watching “Fast & Furious 9”, whose theatrical release was unfortunately delayed more than once due to several reasons including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before eventually released in South Korean theaters today. Yes, there are a number of ridiculously overblown vehicle action sequences as expected, the movie sadly fails to generate enough sense of fun while often trudging in its overlong plot peppered with those tiring emphases on, yes, family, and my mind naturally came to miss those entertaining occasions when the franchise drove all the way for dumb fun and action without so much baggage in its back.

The plot, which is pretty outrageous as usual, starts at the point which is probably several years after the laughably bloated finale of “The Fate of the Furious” (2017). As some of you still remember, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) saved his young son and also got himself rescued by his good old colleagues at that time, and he has subsequently led a quite peaceful time along with his young son and his wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), but, of course, there soon comes another matter to be taken care of by him and his gangs including Letty. One of their former associates died due to a plane crash, and that figure in question happened to be carrying something quite dangerous, which must be retrieved as soon as possible before someone else snatches it.

Not so surprisingly, their following operation turns out to be much more perilous than expected, and Toretto and his gangs come to learn of the identity of their latest opponent, who turns out to be none other than Toretto’s banished younger brother Jakob (John Cena). Many years ago, these two brothers once worked happily together under their dear racer father as shown from the opening scene, but, sadly, their father got himself killed during a car racing competiton, and their subsequent personal clash eventually led to Toretto’s disownment with his younger brother, who became your average super mercenary after leaving their LA neighborhood once for all.

After Jakob manages to snatch that dangerous object in question, Toretto and his gangs try to track down Jakob and his dangerous associates and then stop those bad guys, and there are a number of different figures willing to help them. For example, we are introduced to a trio of nerdy engineers who have worked on a special car equipped with a very powerful engine right above it, and that vehicle in question is later shot into the space with two of Toretto’s team members inside it. To be frank with you, I once mused on when the franchise would go into the space in the end after doing so many outrageous vehicle actions on the Earth, so I could not help but amused a bit as watching this unbelievably over-the-top moment. In fact, I dare to predict that the franchise, which has consistently defied every law of physics, will even try an interstellar drive along wormhole track someday.

Another brief moment of fun in the film comes from Helen Mirren, who has a little more fun compared to her rather wasted appearance in “The Fate of the Furious”. Looking as sassy and elegant as usual, Mirren finally gets an opportunity of being behind the wheel with some necessary assistance, and it is clear that she is savoring every moment of this relatively modest but undeniably humorous vehicle action scene before gliding away from the scene with class and dignity.

Anyway, most of the audiences of the movie are eager to get heaps of crashes and bangs from the screen, and director/co-writer Justin Lin, who previously directed no less than four entries in the franchise including “Fast Five” (2011), and his crew members deliver as much as we can expect from them. While the vehicle action sequence early in the story is quite frantic as bouncing from one spot to another, the other one unfolded in the middle of Edinburgh, Scotland is pretty ridiculous for many things including an equipment capable of generating a very strong magnetic force, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that this equipment is utilized again during the climactic part set in Tbilisi, Georgia.

However, I only observed these and other action scenes from the distance without much care or entertainment because the movie is so predictable and contrived from the beginning to the end. I was not so surprised by what Toretto belatedly came to learn from his younger brother, and I was also distracted by a series of plot turns which push these two opposing main characters to realizing that they are still, yep, family after all those physical damages and destructions between them. Vin Diesel, whom I still fondly remember for his early works in “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and “Boiler Room” (2000), is forceful as usual, but he often seems to be on autopilot this time, and John Cena is not particularly effective as his opponent despite looking tough and formidable as required – especially compared to that palpable macho tension between Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in “Fast Five”.

The other routine cast members fill their spots as much as possible around Diesel and Cena. Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges comfortably handle their respective roles as before, and it is a shame that a self-conscious touch involved with Gibson’s character is not developed into any kind of surprise. In case of Charlize Theron, she unfortunately does not get any chance of grabbing the wheel again, and this disappointment surely makes me want to see “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) again.

On the whole, “Fast and Furious 9” is a passable entry with some entertaining moments, but it is on the level of “The Fate of the Furious” and other several lesser entries in the franchise. I have no idea on what Toretto and his gangs will do in the next two sequels to come, but they and their movies really need some extra boost right now. As a guy who begrudgingly came to accept the franchise for what it has been during last two decades, I sincerely hope that this matter will be rectified for better or worse.

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