The spinoff market is hard to crack. Rarely can a big franchise spin off and deliver the same satisfaction of another main series title. Hobbs & Shaw takes an earnest crack at dividing the big car movie into a buddy-action vehicle, exuding the very bankable charms of its stars, Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Shaw). The chemistry is known and established. When we see it developed on-screen again, it’s not with any measurable surprise, that it works. The entire thing’s necessitated by this one-note mechanism, a functional cog turning in a franchise of larger parts. The two trade barbs and witticisms with occasional precision and show up for a smattering of fan service that the Fast & Furious brand steadfastly embraces.
What we get is a very literal interpretation of Tango & Cash (1989) inside the Fast & Furious universe. That’s all played exactly as it sounds. It’s a reductive template where it could have explored something more deeply. It’s not that it does not make the motions, can we be taken with Johnson’s newly expressed love for Nietzsche inside the story of the new black superman (the ably villainous and productive addition of Idris Elba)? When we explore the character’s native Samoa, does it not add another layer to what these stories have always said about family, especially with Dwayne’s real-life family, with fellow popular wrestler Joe Anoa’i (Roman Reigns, in the ring)? If Statham’s development is otherwise flattened, it is only occasionally enhanced by a lights-out Vanessa Kirby, playing his sister. The movie operates under the same premise and bylaws of all the others. Characters are as good as their pairings, their chosen and unchosen families.
Hobbs & Shaw opens well. It creates a baseline for a comedic rhythm that unfolds along the same continuum throughout. So when it returns to the same well, again and again, twice too long and without momentum, all that potent setup feels as though it’s only an excuse for action. It has such predictable beats they are painted by numbers. Returning comic segment about the stars’ differences, a frenetic music video action set-piece – joke, action, joke. Do the cars even matter beyond the James Bond way, where they express an idealistic representation of the character and are given gimmicky use? Motorcycles meaningfully enter the conversation, where Elba’s given fairly elaborate CG sequences, which elicit strong audience participation. The actors have all the fun and there is none left for us. Everything is designed for a cheap reaction and does not mean very much afterward.
This brings us to the central merit of the franchise – none of this matters if it’s inherently fun. The original The Fast and the Furious (2001) was a workmanlike Point Break (1991) spinoff itself. It found new life in the street racing circuit, in a time where energy drinks were sold like motor oil for humans. That is the cultural space the franchise occupied. Now, it means so much more. We miss Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, that we have suitable more bankable actors that provide a reaction a minute is missing the point in its totality. The brotherhood that formed the prior entries bond is replaced by the same punchline, repeated ad infinitum. It cannot be denied that Kirby and Elba have emerged as high impact players. And we cannot overlook that we’re receiving exactly what’s on the poster, an exacting representation of Johnson’s career inside a mini Crank movie. We leave Fast & Furious less sure than we came, for the umpteenth time, suggesting this franchise needs yet another reboot.