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Movie review: Get your fill of macho men, muscle cars and mad action in ‘The Fate of the Furious’

April 14, 2017 GMT

“The Fate of the Furious,” No. 8 in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, is fun and farfetched — nothing new there.

While it’s not hitting on all cylinders the way the past three megahit films have, it’s hardly going to disappoint most of the fans who love these all-you-can-enjoy buffets of macho men, muscle cars and mad action.

While the focus is still on family, fast wheels and formula, the action-buffet is heavy on cheese.

It’s like a trip to the Melting Pot without anything to dip into that melted goodness. The cheese is delicious, but you want something more.

While “Fast Five” was one of the best action movies you’ll ever see, and No. 6 was a fiery follow-up and “Furious 7” had the depth of emotions to plumb following star Paul Walker’s crash-related death, “The Fate of the Furious” depends too much on Vin Diesel’s broad shoulders.

We learn early that his Dominic Toretto is in a good place, living in Cuba with his immediate family and loving Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in a stress-free atmosphere.

But all it takes is a cryptic woman (Charlize Theron in arrogant James Bond-villain mode) to track Dom to Havana and show him a brief video to make him go rogue.

So we’re not surprised when federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) asks Dom and his team to help him stop a bad guy from getting his hands on a nuclear device, and then Dom betrays his “family” and steals the nuke for Cipher, Theron’s hacker/terrorist/blackmailing hottie.

While Dom’s team members are perplexed by his actions, we’re in on this plot point to the degree that for the first hour we’re left pondering: “What has she got on him?”

There are three weaknesses to this little mystery: It casts a darker cloud than usual over the fun; it makes the movie’s first half confusing; and the reveal is not strong enough to make this slowing of the momentum worth it.

So the stunts and action have got to be memorable to keep fans happy, and they are over-the-top bonkers, as expected.

I always loved Looney Tunes as a kid. Roadrunner was always going to outsmart Wile E. Coyote, so the fun was in seeing how he would slam into a boulder or be blown up yet again.

The “Fast and Furious” movies are Looney Tunes for adults and for kids, and if you thought they couldn’t take the action any further than in recent films, you are a silly, silly person.

There’s no reason to spoil these impressive set pieces, with some incredible real stunts mixed with increasingly more computer-generated whiz-bang.

Let’s just say that the car chases involve land, air, sea and solid ice this time around, and just try to imagine a fun place for a hacker to activate hundreds of cars’ auto-drive systems — driver-less and otherwise — to make a car-chase truly insane.

Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) shows off his skills from “The Italian Job” with these scenes, and he knows how to give face-time to this growing family of actors.

So thank goodness for the established macho-factor between Johnson and Jason Statham when they face off for a testosterone battle, and for the friendly fun-poking interplay between Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris’ ladies’ man and computer nerd, respectively.

But that script by Chris Morgan, who has written the past six movies in this series, takes Diesel away from his family for much of the movie, with the response being too little of that interplay and too much “What is Dom doing” reactions.

Morgan has a familiarity with these characters, but familiarity can breed contempt. While he hasn’t lost respect for them, he doesn’t allow them to be as authentic as usual.

Even the uniqueness of the ability to film in Cuba feels like a stunt: When the images are mostly hot cars and half-naked women watching a race, it looks like the other movies.

The success of the “Fast and the Furious” films is that the audience comes to feel that it’s a part of this diverse family, and when that’s weakened, we feel it.