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"The Fate of the Furious" is nearly as long as the last "Fast and the Furious" movie, the self-aggrandizing "Furious 7," but without the mournful tribute to the series' late co-star Paul Walker, leaving more room for the franchise's stock in trade: sending fast cars hurtling into all directions in entertainingly ridiculous ways.
Finally, street-racing legend Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his lady love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), are married and honeymooning in Cuba. But Dom's reverie is interrupted by an encounter with a high-tech supervillain known only as Cipher (played by Charlize Theron). Cipher wants Dom to turn against his friends and has the leverage (hidden from the audience for the time being) to make him do it.
Not long after this, Dom's friendly fed, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), is contacted by the shadowy intelligence operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) for a secret mission in Berlin. The mission goes smoothly until Dom turns on his crew and steals the super-dangerous electromagnetic pulse generator they were meant to recover.
The botched Berlin mission lands Hobbs in a super-max prison, where he faces off with none other than Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the tough-as-nails villain from the last movie. There's a jailbreak, and Hobbs and Shaw at long last get the chance to make out, er, battle mano-a-mano until Mr. Nobody steps in with the news that Shaw, because of a previous beef against Cipher, is temporarily on our side.
So Hobbs must regroup with the crew Letty, the fast-talking Roman (Tyrese Gibson), tech expert Tej (Ludacris) and super-hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to figure out Cipher's next move. Too late they realize that move is an assault on Mr. Nobody's secret lair, both to steal a bit of surveillance software and to demonstrate how much Dom has turned to the dark side.
The script by Chris Morgan, now on his sixth "F&F" movie, eventually shows Dom's motivation, which is predictably tied up in the franchise's favorite word: "family." The story also gives Diesel, who seems to think of himself as the Laurence Olivier of shaved-head muscleman actors, opportunities to trade dialogue with two Oscar winners, Theron and Helen Mirren (in a glorified cameo).
Director F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton") showed his auto-action chops with "The Italian Job," and the car stunts here are bigger and brassier. A set piece set in New York, as the crew has to dodge Cipher's army of computer-controlled cars, is crazily effective. The grand finale, involving a Russian submarine, is a mess but an exhilarating one, if only for the audacious absurdity of Johnson's Hobbs trying to punch out a torpedo.
"The Fate of the Furious" which, Diesel has vowed, starts up a whole new trilogy for the series has its problems. Theron, though a dynamic actor, has been given a character so mysterious that she's essentially a blank slate. Mr. Nobody's new sidekick, dubbed Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), seems to exist only to fill Walker's slot of a blandly handsome actor who can drive. And the franchise's habit of turning bad guys into good guys hits its low ebb with the return of Statham's Shaw, as if we're supposed to forget all the members of Dom's "family" in past episodes that he's killed.
But the silly spectacle of "The Fate of the Furious" with cars speeding about and Diesel and Johnson seemingly working on two different movies makes it fairly irresistible. As with any multiple-car pile-up, one steers into the skid and hopes for the best.
'The Fate of the Furious'
The eighth installment in the car-happy franchise offers more action, more ridiculous stunts, and the unlikely sight of Vin Diesel trying to act.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, April 14.
Rating • PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content and language.
Running time • 136 minutes.