By Jim Slotek
“You know what’s the difference between you and me?” federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) asks his frenemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in the deafeningly noisy action machine Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
“People like me.”
That profitable amiability is pretty much why there’s a spin-off dedicated to the guy who saved the Fast & Furious franchise on his introduction in 2011’s Fast Five. There is no other why.
But as empty of purpose and overlong as it is, Hobbs & Shaw is at least a more entertaining machine than the last F&F film (the absence of Vin Diesel’s one-note grimness is a plus right there). Director David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde) brings a comic book sensibility to the fight scenes, with slow-motion punches, while the Foley mixers are tasked with (I’m guessing) crunching a forest of coconuts to replicate the sound of impacts that should kill you instead of making you mad.
(It happens I recently rewatched Mike Judge’s cult comedy Idiocracy, where the most popular show of the future was called “Ow, my balls!” At times it seemed like this is that show with a much bigger budget.)
Add to that 135 minutes of dick-joke-level insult humour between the two antagonist-allies (Hobbs threatens to stuff Shaw’s shoe, “so far up your ass, you’ll be spitting shoelaces for weeks.” Shaw provides Hobbs with fake ID with the name “Michael Cauxmal” – get it?).
And from its source material, you can add location after location with the same narrative agenda – chase, be chased, get captured for a while, escape, and finally, hunker down for a last stand.
For all that, it’s hard to hate Hobbs & Shaw, a movie that’s so self-aware of its sound and fury (signifying nothing), that when cyborg-villain Brixton Idris Elba) begins the usual monologue to his captured prey, Hobbs interjects, “Here we go, it’s the bad guy speech.” He doesn’t turn to the camera to address that line, but he could have.
Fittingly, Hobbs & Shaw opens with three separate violent scenes. A British MI6 operation in London is intercepted by a black-ops team (led by the aforementioned Brixton), who are after a secret, world-threatening virus. They kill everyone EXCEPT agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who injects herself with the virus so as to carry it to safe disposal and escapes with a clock ticking on her life. Elsewhere, Hobbs is beating up Asian gangsters and Deckard is beating up a higher-end gang of criminals – both apparently seeking information on said virus.
It’s a “given” that Hobbs and Shaw will be assigned to team up (it’s in the title, duh), reluctant to a furious degree, and that the kick-ass Brit agent (who is Hobbs’ estranged sister, one of many “family members” who turn up in this movie) will join them to clear her name after being framed for the viral larceny attempt. (Brixton was rendered part-machine by the AI that runs a powerful secret organization that controls the media, because of course it does).
So… London, Moscow, Ukraine and finally Samoa (a pointed and emotionally-manipulative tribute to Johnson’s own background), with the high tech bad guys in pursuit and seemingly no hope of eluding them forever. Since basically the same thing happens in every location, they could have eliminated one, saved about $30 million on the budget and had a much tighter 100-minute action flick.
Samoa is worth keeping, though. A good, angry, grimacing Haka Dance is what this franchise has needed for a long time.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Stars Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba. Opens wide, Friday, August 2.