hobbs and shaw review

The Fast and Furious franchise has come a long way from the days of street racing and NOS. The first film spawned seven sequels, with more on the way, and now a spin-off centering around two fan-favorite supporting characters played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham is here. But as the Fast and Furious franchise moves forward, Hobbs & Shaw speeds away from it as far as possible.

Hobbs & Shaw, which stars Johnson as federal agent Luke Hobbs and Statham as former mercenary Deckard Shaw, could barely be called a Fast and Furious film, if not for the “Fast and Furious Presents” crammed in tiny lettering at the beginning of the title. The spin-off film is nigh unrecognizable from the gritty low-level crime days of early Fast and Furious, and indeed, even the high-stakes heists of the more recent films. Cars almost seem an afterthought, taking second place to the spy thriller meets buddy-comedy of Hobbs & Shaw. The film plays like Mission: Impossible meets GI Joe meets a bro-ier James Bond. There’s even a little of Mad Max in there, and some visual language pulled straight from rom-coms. It’s a superhero movie tailored perfectly around its larger-than-life stars, who are performing exaggerated versions of themselves — Dwayne Johnson as The Rock, and Jason Statham as every Jason Statham character. What it is, is everything but a Fast and Furious movie.

With Deadpool 2 director David Leitch behind the camera and Idris Elba playing a villain calling himself “Black Superman,” it was inevitable that Hobbs & Shaw would feel more like a superhero movie. It’s got all the makings of a superhero team-up film, opening with Johnson and Statham going through their separate adrenaline-fueled morning routines before they both storm into seedy nightclubs to unwittingly investigate the same dangerous bio-engineered virus that Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) has just injected into herself. Hattie immediately becomes the target of the most dangerous organizations in the world, including her former employer MI6, who believe that she has gone renegade after her entire unit is discovered brutally slain, and Elba’s cybernetically enhanced super-criminal, Brixton Lore. Hobbs and Shaw are soon recruited by the CIA to find Hattie — a team-up that just as quickly falls apart once the two realize who they’ll be working with.

Some movies require a slow build, but Hobbs & Shaw isn’t that kind of movie. It needs to charge right out the gate, guns blazing, biceps rippling, chrome domes shining. Unfortunately, it takes about an hour for Hobbs & Shaw to get moving, as the film gets weighed down by its self-indulgent excess and distracting cameos from the cast and crew’s best buddies. There are jokes about Johnson’s real-life Herculean diet and long stretches of Hobbs & Shaw trying to establish Shaw as a good and fun criminal (and not the kind who killed several people in cold blood) through charming flashbacks showing him and his sister blowing up bank vaults as kids. There’s a desperation in the first hour of the film, which frantically plants all the seeds for a new franchise and apes some of today’s best action films — though Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t have the finesses of Bond nor the tactile thrills of Mission: Impossible. The early action sequences are impressively choreographed but disappointingly limp, delivering none of the bombast that a Hobbs & Shaw movie would promise. But once Hobbs & Shaw abandons all pretense of trying to establish plot and paying lip service to its celebrity friends, the film truly kicks into gear and becomes a nonstop thrill ride.

The second half of Hobbs & Shaw is loaded with explosive setpieces, dangerous heists, and more of Elba chewing the scenery as the villain — though for the most part, Elba is still severely underused. It’s in this last hour where Hobbs & Shaw makes its money’s worth, scaling up the stakes by bringing the story back to basics with a visit to Hobbs’ home country of Samoa, where he reunites with his estranged brother (Cliff Curtis). The movie halfheartedly gestures at a theme of salt-of-the-earth humanity versus technology, but really, it’s all about seeing a shirtless Johnson leading an army of club and spear-wielding Samoans. That, and seeing five beaten-up pick-up trucks try to drag down a helicopter. Once the logic flies out the window (halfway through the big Samoa battle, the late-night setting suddenly switches to midday and no one blinks), that’s when Hobbs & Shaw is at its best and dumbest.

But while dumb excess works in favor of Hobbs & Shaw‘s action setpieces, it gets in the way when the film tries its hand at dialogue. Simultaneously the best and worst parts of the film are Hobbs and Shaw’s arguments — the combative chemistry is what made Johnson and Statham a dream team to begin with, but Leitch seems to give his stars a loose leash when it comes to banter. The clever digs and naughty insults eventually degrade into “your mom” jokes — which Johnson and Statham pull off wonderfully, but even these scenes start to drag once they’ve been going on for over five minutes straight. The appeal of Johnson and Statham shine through in these scenes, but inevitably derails the narrative momentum, and in some instances, brings it to a screeching halt altogether. One scene in which Hobbs and Shaw bicker quietly on an airplane gets stretched even longer when a wild Kevin Hart appears — a cameo that seemingly comes courtesy of his frequent co-star Johnson. But by virtue of Hart’s lengthy appearance, his role doesn’t even feel like a cameo. Hart riffs with Johnson and Statham for another few minutes and keeps up the bit in two more appearances in the film, which start to immediately grate. A Ryan Reynolds recurring cameo also serves to distract, though it does offer a small delight to discover that he is basically playing Deadpool in every movie he appears in now.

Johnson and Statham are physical actors first, and it’s when Hobbs & Shaw realizes this that these bantering scenes sing. The biggest fault of the movie is perhaps that they showed all their cards in the trailers: one of the the most entertaining sequences is when Johnson and Statham butt heads during a simultaneous hallway charge — it’s near-balletic in its juggling of physical comedy and action thrills, and the stars’ silent glares conjure more laughs then the countless times Johnson calls Statham a “hobbit.” They’re in their elements when jumping out the sides of buildings and throwing defeated enemy agents at each other, rather than sitting across a table and stewing.

Kirby’s icy Hattie Shaw is a welcome addition to this testosterone-saturated pairing, giving depth to a role that, as written, is little more than an emotional anchor for Shaw and a new romantic foil to Hobbs. Lithe and lethal, Kirby is magnetic to watch with a smirk always ready to form on her face — delivering a much-needed dose of cool comedy while Johnson and Statham run hot. Hobbs & Shaw make better use of Kirby than last year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, but she still feels shoehorned in as Johnson’s romantic interest. Granted, Johnson does have chemistry with each one of his leading ladies, but this relationship more so than past ones feels of the “you’re hot, I’m hot, let’s be hot together” variant. But where Kirby doesn’t quite work to soften Johnson’s Hobbs, Eliana Sua’s Sam does as Hobbs’ sweet but sassy young daughter — showing up in intervals to prod about her father’s family or how pretty Kirby’s evil spy lady is. Perhaps the only shared DNA that Hobbs & Shaw has to past Fast and Furious films are its emphasis on family, which act as a solid throughline in the movie.

Despite its failings and annoying tendency to stretch out jokes to the point of excess, Hobbs & Shaw succeeds in doing exactly what it promises to do. Hobbs & Shaw is an action movie as a meme; the entire film is a self-effacing wink at the audience. It delivers to us what we want in a movie where Johnson and Statham are filmed 85% of the time in slow-motion: good dumb fun.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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