Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – two bickering boys battle augmented humanity and themselves to save a sister who swallows a timebomb (cinemas from 1 August)

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (12A) delivers a strange mix of tiresome bickering and banter between the two big boys (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprising their roles as Hobbs and Shaw), a slew of estranged relationships to be patched up, a bionic Idris Elba who fails to spark in the rain, and a high-octane mix of low and high tech fight sequences as the action jumps around the world, from London and a pitstop in a deserted Ukrainian power plant before the long finale on the island of Samoa whose weather is as changeable as the casts’ mood.

The film’s weaknesses are its continual reliance on a series of time limits – a 30-minute extraction process, six minutes to block a satellite, and a super powerful explosive that has a simple timer and no remote detonation – and an obsession with referring to Game of Thrones.

The film’s strength is that if the audience have come back to this spin-off for another taste of the long-running franchise, they probably don’t care. Vehicles are smashed, ripped torsos and stubbly chiselled chins pepper the loose plot which is based around Vanessa Kirby’s character Hattie who has swallowed a programmable virus that could alter the face of the Earth and now needs to find a means to cough it up securely.

But the fact that Hattie doesn’t make it into the film’s title – and is initially described as ‘pretty’ – is a reminder that this testosterone-powered story has no intention of allowing any rounded female characters to develop on screen. From what we see of Kirby’s talents, she would more than justify being top-billed with the strutting cocks who are better suited at action than emotion.

An incarcerated mother (Helen Mirren) and insightful daughter (Eliana Sua) are introduced early on, but are not at all integral to the story (and the emotional arc is only loosely attached with worn out Velcro to the plot). Rob Delaney’s bit part is fun while it lasts, but so many characters are utterly disposable (including a fired-up Nobel prize winning scientist).

Spoiler alert: like a couple of Davids battling an augmented Goliath, Hobbs and Shaw realise that if they work together, they stand a better chance of defeating the enemy. Two female leads might have allowed the writers to find a more ambitious point to make.

Hobbs & Shaw’s length stretches out the entertainment like chewing gum that sags but won’t break. It’s humorous without ever being laugh out loud funny. Some of the early stunts are novel, and the mirrored action across two different locations is well shot and edited. The smart-arse dialogue is well written, the undercover agents’ cars are ostentatious, the baddie’s self-driving bike is neat (if overused).

It’s no Bourne film, and falls short of director David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde. But it is so much better than London has Fallen and takes itself so much less seriously than Mission Impossible that it’s a pleasant couple of hours (and a bit) in an airconditioned cinema screen.

Warning: a London bus and a toaster were seriously injured in the making of this film which preserves life for the first 90 minutes before knocking people off like an episode of The A-Team. Fans with weak bladders will want to know that there are two extra scenes in the credits.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is released in Movie House Cinemas and most other screens across the UK and Ireland from Thursday 1 August.