F9: THE FAST SAGA – Review by Leslie Combemale

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F9: The Fast Saga is truly the most ridiculous movie I’ve ever seen. There were times when I was rolling my eyes so hard I feared they’d roll right out of their sockets. A scene where two dudes get shot into outer space in a souped-up car wearing vintage diving dress comes to mind. It’s like writer/director Justin Lin and his writing partner Daniel Casey got high one night and made a list of the most preposterous ideas for set pieces, then woke up the next morning and said, “Yeah. Let’s make this.” They must have destroyed hundreds of cars in the making of this flick, but folks who think it’s all wasted money that could be used for other films should take a reality pill. If not this movie, it’ll be spent on another action-er. Things that go boom put people in the seats, and after the year we’ve had, both theaters and people need some escapism, and things that go boom onscreen.

Then there’s this: a quick look at the top grossing blockbusters ever released will tell you F9 is also one of the rarest of the rare, a high-budgeted studio film nearly completely populated with people of color. Were it not for the Fast and Furious franchise, Black Panther would be completely alone on the top 200 highest grossing movies that star a lead cast of color. It is a shame there isn’t a better gender balance or more people of color heading departments below the line, although one of the film’s editors, award-winning Kelly Matsumoto, is an Asian-American woman. It is, however, a film that features not one or two, but six smart, independent women in positions of power, who can fight as hard and well as the men do. They need no rescuing. In fact, in F9 they are often the ones taking control of the situation.

After 8 other Fast and Furious films, does the plot even matter? Actor/producer Vin Diesel once again plays Dom Toretto, who is living the quiet life off the grid with his young son and his partner Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Only minutes in, their calm is shattered when his old crew, including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) show up. They reveal they’ve gotten a message from ‘Mr. Nobody’ (Kurt Russell, in “pay me a million for 10 minutes of work” mode) begging them to come to the rescue. Of course they do. Things get complicated when they discover a contraption that will destroy the world order and give whoever controls it all the power. Even more complicated is Dom’s long-estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) is one of the baddies involved.

There’s much telegraphing of story and character, which gets to be humorous, like when we see the same cross Dom wears on the as-yet-unrevealed bad guy in close-up. On the other hand, a friend with a deep love and knowledge of the franchise sitting next to me seemed to particularly enjoy those moments. Obviously Lin and his co-writers are aware of these absurdities. They’ve even added a running gag with Roman, having escaped yet another firefight unscathed, musing about the team’s possible indestructibly.

The women in the movie encompass a wide spectrum of character, skill, and motivation, but are also represented by women of many shapes, colors, and ages. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Helen Mirren is trying to be best known for her action roles. Well played, Helen. Michelle Rodriguez’s character is arguably the best driver in the crew, and new addition Asian New Zealander Anna Sawai plays the role of a young woman who can protect herself, and possibly everyone else in the room as well. Charlize Theron as Cipher is effective, stalking a tiny plexiglass box in which she’s held captive like a panther waiting to strike. I caught myself wondering where she pees, and then realized what movie I was watching.

Don’t think. Just enjoy the 145 minutes of things that go boom, and the blessedly diverse cast doing crazy things in the name of eternal friendship and defending their own moral code.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.