Look. I could begin this review by telling you that Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is a former low level criminal who left a life of crime to become a former government agent who left a life of government work to aid in a heist, thereby putting him back on a life of crime, until those criminals decide to mainly just save the world, thus putting Hobbs back into government work.
I could tell you that Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is a lifelong criminal who killed a friend of the aforementioned criminal heisters and proceeded to try and kill the rest of them, only to be imprisoned for a short time alongside Hobbs, during which time they both escape and join forces with the criminals again during their vigilante phase, in spite of the face that he murdered their friend in cold blood.
But telling you this is immaterial. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (a moniker so clunky you may as well have called the film Fast & Furious: but Not Really Fast & Furious, because This One Only has Hobbs & Shaw in it) will throw that exposition and backstory in your face, fast and loose, in between nonstop snide remarks and ultra-loud action sequences. But all you really need to know about the dual protagonists in this film is that they hate each other.
And boy does the movie make this point evident. The entire humorous crux of the film relies on the continued refrain of this rivalry. When the two characters first reunite, being tasked with working together to stop the spread of a lethal techno-virus (the melt-your-insides type of techno-virus), they trade off cheeky insults for what feels like five uninterrupted minutes. Every chance the film gets to return to this well of insults, it takes.
The longevity of this simple comic relief tactic is surprising. Does the shtick get old? Of course. But you could ride Johnson and Statham’s negative energy toward each other through most of this otherwise bombastically dull (oxymoronic as it sounds, somehow it’s the sensation produced) movie. If you’re a fan of these characters, the shtick is probably the only thing you need to enjoy the film.
But this is a middling entrant into the Fast & Furious franchise. Even by the franchise’s standard of eluding criticism by engaging in its escalating brand of fantastical realism, Hobbs & Shaw simply doesn’t have the goods. It has the same energy as one of the numbered F&F films, but its breakneck pace seems to be a means of hiding its glaring flaw: that these two characters are too glib and pithy to truly function as central characters in their own film.
Quips and smirks and oneupsmanship are all well and good, but providing Hobbs and Shaw with family members (the Fast & Furious is all about family, after all) and a need to be brothers to each other to succeed is not enough to give these characters an emotional throughline worth investing in.
Because the script is so invested in making a joke out of each one of their interactions, the “brotherhood” they accomplish by the end is contrived and silly. As is the climax as a whole, by the way. The final act of the film is a ridiculous mess of contrived deadlines, stern emotional monologues, and gaudy action.
Elsewhere in the film, director David Leitch conjures some dynamic set pieces, even if the rapid cutting between punches is an eye sore. There is a competency to the action that should yield more awesome results, but by the end of the film it only breeds exhaustion. Not to mention the ironic twist that, for a Fast & Furious film, the least exciting action takes place on vehicles.
What is most impressive about Leitch’s direction, the script, and the blocking and choreography of the actors, is the parallel nature of the protagonists. We get it right from the jump, this cutting back and forth between the two characters, showing the similarities and differences in their routines and actions.
It is a technique that, in a film like this, could come off cheesy and wanting. But Leitch has a sense of detail in the action choreography that makes it more interesting. As the film cuts between two separate fights, one involving Hobbs and one involving Shaw, their fighting style is at times a mirror image and at others slightly different. The intentionality of these choices provide more interesting bits of character development than the words coming out of the characters’ mouths do.
Hobbs & Shaw is a good film for franchise fans, and it more than lives up to its quota of laughs. But it is an exhausting experience. The charisma of leads Johnson, Statham, and Vanessa Kirby runs thin, because the script relies so heavily on their ability to be charming and witty. And the only thing that interrupts the need for charisma are the action set pieces, which come on strong and only occasionally excite.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)