Review: Justin Lin's 'F9' is a Preposterous But Entertaining Self-Parody
by Adam Frazier
June 25, 2021
Taiwanese-born American filmmaker Justin Lin (director of the films Better Luck Tomorrow, Annapolis, Tokyo Drift, and Star Trek Beyond previously) has directed five of the nine films in The Fast Saga already, including its lowest of lows (2009's Fast & Furious) and its highest of highs (2011's Fast Five). With Fast 9, known as just F9 or Fast & Furious 9, the auteur of automotive action returns to the franchise for the first time since 2013's Fast & Furious 6 for what is, arguably, the most ridiculous entry in a series that routinely pushes the limits of logic, physics, and heavy-handed family melodrama.
Co-written by Lin and franchise newcomer Daniel Casey, F9 begins in 1989, with professional stock car driver Jack Toretto (J.D. Pardo) burnin' up the track at a speedway, his sons Dominic (Vinnie Bennett) and Jakob (Finn Cole) in his crew. During the race, a rival (Jim Parrack) smashes into Jack's bumper, causing the stock car to hit a wall and explode. Jack is killed instantly, forever changing the lives of Dom, Jakob, and their sister Mia. Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) also appears during this flashback as Jack's mulleted crew chief Buddy.
Back in the present, Dom (Vin Diesel) is retired, raising his son Brian with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrive with news that Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has captured cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), but his plane has been attacked by rogue agents and crashed in Central America. Replaying the distress signal, Dom realizes Jakob (John Cena) is involved and decides to come out of retirement to settle things with his estranged brother and recover the movie's MacGuffin, "Project Aries", a device that can control the world's computers and weapons systems when the two halves are joined together.
What follows is an absolutely preposterous (but entertaining) self-parody that runs on a high-octane mix of absurdity and vehicular mayhem. It's a bit like if Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens and Transformers: The Last Knight made love on a Hot Wheels track, somehow birthed a beautiful baby, clothed it in a white Henley, straight-leg jeans, Timberlands, and a cross necklace, and set them loose on the world with a Dodge Charger and a dream — a dream to drive fast, blow things up, and use magnets in wildly implausible ways. It's the kind of movie that refuses to make sense. Characters we've known for 20 years suddenly have siblings we've never met, while others, like Han Lue (Sung Kang), are resurrected from the dead in ways that would impress even Days of our Lives' Stefano DiMera.
F9 is a fast-food fever dream in which cars swing across chasms on grappling hooks, race across minefields, and use magnets to push and pull vehicles into each other, creating a level of computer-generated carnage hitherto beyond imagination. Lucas Black, Bow Wow, and Jason Tobin reprise their roles from 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift so they can strap a rocket to a Pontiac Fiero and launch Roman and Tej into outer space to crash into a satellite. Yes, you heard that right. Tyrese and Ludacris, wearing duct-taped diving suits, in a Pontiac Fiero, boldly going to that most final of frontiers. La familia, y'all.
As the Fast & Furious franchise looks outward and onward up into space, it also looks inward. There's a sequence in which Dom has a near-death experience and goes on an honest-to-god vision quest, pulling back the veil on life's darkest mysteries and discovering the truth about his father's death, thus fulfilling his search for inner peace. In any other movie, this scene would be one of those "wait, what?" record-scratch moments, but in F9, it barely registers as anything out of the ordinary. It's as humdrum as racing for pink slips; as mundane as crashing an Alfa Romeo through the nose cone of a burning cargo plane.
Other familiar faces from throughout the The Fast Saga, like Jordana Brewster's Mia Toretto and Helen Mirren's Magdalene "Queenie" Shaw also make appearances. It's an all-star affair, with characters and themes that bridge the entire franchise in surprising ways. The standout of the ensemble this time around, however, is WWE superstar turned actor John Cena as Dom's brother, Jakob. 2011's Fast Five breathed new life into the franchise with the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson and Lin is attempting to replicate that film's success by adding another professional wrestler into the fold. While Cena isn't "The Rock", he's a welcome addition to the franchise and brings the physicality (and chiseled jaw) needed for Jakob Toretto.
Disappointing, though, is the misuse of Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, who spends her precious few minutes of screentime in a Hannibal Lecter-esque cell with a '90s bowl cut, talking about Star Wars with Jakob's partner in crime Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen). This cringe-worthy sequence has Otto comparing himself to Luke Skywalker, then Han Solo, before Cipher says he's more like Yoda. Otto takes this as a huge compliment, noting that he was a powerful Jedi Master, to which Cipher reminds him that Yoda was actually just a puppet with someone's hand up his ass. Yikes.
Look, you know what you're getting into here. If you like these movies already, you're going to like this one. If you hate these movies, not a single second of F9's 145-minute runtime will change your mind. As someone who watches these movies once or twice, enjoys laughing at them, and then immediately forgets everything about them, F9 is the most fun I've had with the franchise since Fast Five. Sung Kang smolders, Michelle Rodriguez kicks ass, and Michael Rooker wears the shit out of that mullet wig. It's weird, it's wacky, and by refusing to take itself seriously, Lin's latest entry in this franchise deflects any serious criticism one could level at it. Like many of its characters, the Fast franchise has become invincible.
Adam's Rating: 3 out of 5
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