Fast X’s running on the highest-octane fumes you’ve ever huffed

Universal’s Fast & Furious movies began as high-stakes action thrillers about people doing spectacularly batshit things with sexy cars, but the franchise’s transition into telling big, bombastic, family-focused parables is what’s really given it staying power over the years. In Fast X — the 11th overall film in this series — you can see director Louis Leterrier trying to tap into as many of the themes that define this nos-filled world as humanly possible, and it’s an admirable effort. But while Fast X’s heart is in the right place, that heart’s also enlarged in the “stressed beyond capacity” sense.

You don’t necessarily need to have seen any of the previous films to dive into Fast X, but this latest chapter of Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) life makes a lot more sense the more familiar you are with Justin Lin’s Fast Five. Though it’s been years since Dom, his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and his best friend Brian (Paul Walker) robbed Brazilian drug lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), Fast X tells the story of how Reyes’ cartoonishly unhinged son Dante (Jason Momoa) emerges from the shadows to avenge his father’s death by trying to destroy what Dom loves most. If you’re reading this, then you should know what that thing is. On the off chance that you don’t, though, Fast X makes a point of telling you while dropping the f-word so frequently that it almost feels like the movie’s script was penned with drinking games in mind.

One does not simply attack Dom Toretto’s chosen family of highly skilled street racers turned professional criminals head-on because, at this late stage in their careers, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Han (Sung Kang) are all too familiar with how many villains out there want them dead. But with Dom and Letty now trying to settle down in order to give Dom’s son Brian “Little B” Marcos (Leo Abelo Perry) a semi-normal life, the Family’s moving a little differently these days, and one of the bigger ideas running throughout Fast X is what it really means for people who live fast to try to slow down and breathe a little bit.

That idea could have been somewhat interesting. Fast X quickly lets it fall to the wayside as it sets to bring back virtually every character you know from these films in a series of convoluted twists and turns that have a way of making the movie play like an exciting but airless telenovela that only works if you’re deeply invested in this world.

As terrifying and larger than life a presence as Cipher (Charlize Theron) was in The Fate of the Furious and F9, the way she just shows up on Dom’s doorstep is almost as unintentionally comical as the way Momoa can’t quite work his mouth around a consistent Brazilian accent. In bringing characters like Cipher, Queenie (Helen Mirren), and Dom’s brother Jakob (John Cena) back into the picture, Fast X means to illustrate how effective Dom’s been at working through his beefs with former enemies and growing his family in the process.

Because there have been so many of these movies to call back to, though, Fast X’s supporting characters often feel more like souped-up cameos meant to remind you of the past rather than figures organically existing in the present — especially when they just pop up out of nowhere, which happens more often than you’d expect. Unfortunately, this also holds true for many of Fast X’s newcomers, like Agency nepo baby Tess (Brie Larson) and the shadowy organization’s new leader Aimes (Alan Ritchson) — both of whom spend a surprising amount of time standing in screen-filled voids like something out of Evangelion.

As you watch Dom and Dante’s drama unfold across the globe in a series of stunts meant to frame the Family as the ultimate terrorists in the public eye, you can see Fast X returning to the classic Fast formula that sets mortal enemies up to become friends down the line. But Universal also clearly greenlit Fast X with the intention of it being something akin to Avengers: Infinity War — the beginning of the end of a major chunk of this franchise — which has a curious way of making this movie’s attempts at establishing fresh dynamics between people feel half-hearted.

On some level, Fast X means for you to take seriously the grudge that Dante — a Joker-esque sociopath who Momoa plays with an effete quality that smacks of gay panic more than insanity — holds for Dom. But between Fast X not exactly doing the best job of differentiating Dante from your typical Fast villain and Diesel really embodying a Dom who feels like he’s been through the wringer a few times, their conflict ends up feeling like something that was mapped out on paper but not crafted tightly enough to sing on-screen.

Thankfully, many of Fast X’s vehicular stunts are inspired — divorced from our reality’s physics as they might be — and the movie’s very good about having a sense of humor regarding how patently ridiculous the Fast world tends to be when directors cut loose. For every exhaustingly ham-fisted sentimentality play Fast X goes for by reminding you how much Dom loves — loves — his family and Jesus, the movie also knows that what Fast fans love is seeing these character whip cars around like they’re extensions of their bodies.

More often than not, Fast X feels like it’s in too much of a rush to be the kind of full-bodied joyride that it could be, which is disappointing but perhaps somewhat intentional on Universal’s part. As big two-parter movies go, Fast X ends on a series of cliffhanger-ish beats that aren’t exactly the most thrilling. What they are, however, are reminders that there’s yet another one of these movies coming out in the very near future, and it’s then that diehard fans of Fast & Furious are probably going to get the epic payoff they’ve been waiting for.

Fast X also stars Daniela Melchior, Rita Moreno, Jason Statham, Luis Da Silva Jr, and Pete Davidson. The film hits theaters today.

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