Director Louis Leterrier hurriedly steps into the driving seat for Fast X. Here’s our review of a loud, long sequel…
For all their machismo and vehicular carnage, the Fast films are, in essence, pantomime. The sequels roll around regularly, provide a reliable mix of music, acrobatics, stock characters, silliness and boo-hiss villains, and they’re perfectly entertaining in a disposable sort of way.
And if Fast X is a pantomime, then Jason Momoa is now its new grand dame. Forget the actor’s signature character, Khal Drogo; Momoa’s Dante Reyes is loud, flamboyant, and screamingly camp. One of Momoa’s big entrances sees him emerge from a muscle car wearing a lilac silk shirt, a pair of shades hanging from his neck on a gold chain, clutching a handbag stuffed with cash. Mamoa is clearly having the time of his life in the role as Dominic Toretto’s nemesis – the vengeful son of Hugo Reyes, the Rio-based drug lord Toretto and his crew nobbled in Fast Five.
The Fast franchise has never been afraid to retrofit its own chronology to suit the plot, and Fast X deftly reworks the fifth film’s main set-piece to include new footage of Mamoa on the periphery of the action. The film’s makers are clearly aware that Fast Five's Rio chase – in which Torretto and Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) dragged a safe full of cash behind their cars like a giant wrecking ball – was a series highpoint. Its repurposing for Fast X's scene-setting opener is cleverly done.
The trouble is, it’s a reminder of how the films that followed Fast Five, as fun as they’ve been, have never quite matched that 2011 film’s batty spark. In Fast Five, the balance between absurdity and seriousness, the CGI and the practical, were finely calibrated.
In Fast X, that balance is all over the place. The tone lurches constantly between the sentimental (Dom spends a lot of time staring at old photographs) and the implausible. There are a glaring number of scenes where an actor conveniently has their back to the camera while a looped-in voice fills in or clarifies bits of plot – a possible sign of hurried script rewrites.
Vin Diesel’s role as co-producer seems to have a major bearing on Fast X's events. The cast is still as overstuffed as the previous five or six movies, but this is Diesel’s story – his battle of wits with Dante as the latter sets about ruining Dom’s reputation and terrorising his family – not least Dom’s son, Little B (Leo Abelo Perry). Diesel also ensures there are multiple scenes of Dom, shot from a low angle, as he poses for the camera with his fists clenched.
As Diesel drives cars, pouts and glowers, the rest of his crew are relegated to largely inconsequential busy work on different continents. Roman, Tej, Han and Leysa are in the UK, staring at laptop screens, for example, while Dom’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez)… well, I won’t spoil her odd side gambit here.
The Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier (who replaced outgoing filmmaker Justin Lin around a week into shooting) tries to hold the morass together, cutting between locations and assorted plots, which sort of feel like their own self-contained films. Leterrier has an affinity for shooting clear, well-choreographed punch-ups, and these action sequences are the film’s best; the vehicular mayhem has less conviction, with clear joins between the practical and computer generated that increasingly tell as the film’s vast duration unwinds. By the time we’ve reached the thunderous final stretch, the CGI could be politely described as impressionistic.
Credited writers Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin try their best to keep upping the stakes, but the film’s disconnection from reality is so total that the tension barely mounts. Fast X doubles down on the series’ affection for casting actors who either are or who look like ex-wrestlers or former models, adding to the Instagram sense of an alternate reality of fake tans, twerking and baby oil. It says a lot that, in a film largely populated by unfeasibly huge actors, John Cena, of all people, emerges as the affable everyman. He’s back as Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob, here playing the role of babysitter to Little B and clad in dad-on-holiday loud shirts and shorts.
In a film stuffed with screamingly loud action, it’s actually the smaller, more unhinged moments that actually stick in the memory. A scene that involves Mamoa, two corpses and some nail varnish might just be the strangest in the series so far. In fact, there are many scenes in Fast X that are flat out weird.
As entertaining as Fast X is in its best moments, though it eventually begins to feel more exhausting than exhilarating. Like being force-fed junk food for 140 minutes, the initial calorie rush is ultimately replaced by a feeling of overstuffed nausea.
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