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Perhaps the biggest talent the Fast and the Furious franchise developers have is to make completely forgettable movies. I say this is a skill because it is a necessary component of the winning strategy they’ve developed into this multi-billion dollar empire: to make a movie so entertaining and yet so unmemorable that audiences won’t know the difference when they plop back down for the next helping twelve months hence.

As I sat there watching the latest/eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d seen precisely this movie before. Perhaps I had, but this did not make me less or captivated or, honestly, impressed with the fine-oiled machine that Universal Picture continues and will continue to put together. It was a fun joy ride.

The opening scene is dastardly familiar, hot girls, an exotic locale, an exhilarating car race. Did I see it in the last James Bond flick, or in xXx? Or maybe it was in Furious 7, but, shrug, who’s really counting? Do you really want me to go cross-reference where in each film each tortured reference appears? For, in misguided attempts to seem serious, the writers litter the landscape with strained references to past chapters. I assure you, writers, nobody is paying that much attention.

It doesn’t get much more creative after the white flag is up, white the evil Cipher still out to control and/or ruin the world and the already assembled band of misfits set to foil these designs with wit and valor, not to mention muscle (car and otherwise).

This time around a new wrench is thrown into the mix, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel’s) now-staple franchise hero, is turned against his team, betraying the family he exults to love to save the family he exults to love. Oh, wait, wrong again. The brother vs. brother concept has already been used in this very franchise (not to mention in all the other ones—Captain America being the most recent of course). Again, it matters not, the audience is here for the special effects and will forgive repetitive contrivances.

And those effects do arrive, to much fanfare and glory. Each new film in the Furious series aims to bring one or two new breathtaking moments or super cool stunts. Fate of the Furious does not disappoint, with a particularly enthralling sequence in the tight-winding streets of Manhattan among them, a pinball of car demolition derby if you will. Another ridiculously amazing scene with a nuclear submarine chasing them Jaws-style (a fact not lost at all on the clever filmmakers) also makes the cut.

You shouldn’t be really surprised, of course, given that F. Gary Gray is behind the wheel, with his Italian Job and Straight Outta Compton experience and all. Heart-pounding music by composer Brian Tyler, who participated in the last project, helps round out the show-stopping visuals that will leave you wanting more after the credits roll. Some in the team crack computer codes, others crack skulls. It’s more or less the way of these worlds and the formula, as trite and reused as it is, just keeps working.

Don’t forget the multitudinous cast that does a lot of the heavy lifting. Who can resist the affable charm of The Rock and his overgrown biceps, the sexy poutiness of Michelle Rodriguez, who has been around from the get go, or the straight man talents of Jason Stratham and Tyrese Gibson. All play crucial roles in the jokes that work and also those that don’t—many do fall as flat as the collapsing, sleek autos that they drive.

But, again, it doesn’t matter, certainly not when you have Charlize Theron as the ultimate baddie in the film, and a brief but delicious appearance by Helen Mirren, who always seems to revel in playing quirky roles in these products she must no doubt consider low-brow but paycheck enticing. The two provide a one-two punch for a franchise that had grown high on testosterone of late, particularly in light of the somewhat laughable “lovable Daddy” roles the overly-muscled Diesel and Johnson have been forced into playing.

The plot holes in Fate of the Furious are large enough to drive armored vehicles through, The Rock’s huge biceps and all. But the action moves have the chops, the racing scenes have the mettle, and the suspense—predictable, ridiculous, over-the-top as it is—Is nominally there. People fill the seats for these films because the studio is firmly in the driver’s seat. They know exactly how to give the audience what they came for because there is always a new city to run roughshod through, another pretty locale to race across, and another nuclear device to hijack.

If there is one thing I can guarantee is that you will laugh repeatedly during the eye-popping effects in the film, and that you will leave the theater outright joyous at oh what fun you just had. You will soon forget the film completely, which is just as well: you’ll be thus ready for the next installment before you know it.

Fate of the Furious will race into theaters April 14, 2017.

Grade: B+

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, the pseudonym of a New York City-based writer, is a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online and has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age. JDB has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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