Tagged: Jason Statham

Box Office Democracy: The Fate of the Furious

Box Office Democracy: The Fate of the Furious

I don’t believe in objective reviews of media.  I think the personal subjectivity of the reviewer is impossible to remove and, honestly, that it would be boring if you could.  That said, I am not capable of being remotely objective when it comes to the Fast & Furious franchise.  I find the formula they have stumbled upon since Fast Five to be unbelievably charming and I can’t separate the movie from the joy they’ve brought in to my life and the friendships these movies have enriched.  If this bothers you, I can give you the low down on how I feel about this movie and you can be on your way: if you’ve liked any of the last three entries in the franchise you’ll like this one, and if you didn’t this will not change your mind.  If my F&F obsession does not bother you, come on and let me geek out a little bit.

If you’ve seen the trailer you know the hook for The Fate of the Furious: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has turned against his crew, his family, and is now working for the super hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron).  That’s sort of the whole film.  Cipher has a nefarious plan but it’s very nebulous.  She wants nuclear weapons and she wants to launch one, but I’m not sure what she wants to do after that.  It all feels hastily thrown together so we can get the shots of Dom in his evil black jumpsuit driving a more evil-looking black Challenger.  That’s all fine, the plot is only there to hold top the action sequences— but this feels less substantial than usual.  There’s also the idea that Cipher would blackmail someone who has pulled off some of the zaniest heists and car chases in history but only uses him as a glorified bag man that rubbed me the wrong way— but again it’s all about big action sequences and meaningful glances, so whatever.

There are two signature action pieces in The Fate of the Furious and they’re the most important thing to judge the movie by.  There’s a big second act set piece in New York where Cipher hacks a bunch of cars and controls them remotely as a big swarm to take out a motorcade.  This is a visually interesting bit but it might finally be the moment where a Fast & Furious movie got too far out there for me.  I know cars don’t work like that.  More importantly, it doesn’t feature any characters we care about so it’s literally just cars smashing in to each other with no purpose.  The sequence picks up a lot when it becomes about Dom and the rest of the crew, but by that point you’re kind of tired of action.  The movie’s climax is a race across a frozen bay to stop a submarine while being chased by cars firing missiles.  I know I said self-driving cars were straining my suspension of disbelief earlier in this very paragraph, but I loved every ridiculous second of this sequence.  It feels a little like they’re trying to top the tank sequence from Fast & Furious 6 by using a bigger more menacing piece of military hardware and it doesn’t live up to it, maybe nothing ever could, but it’s great in its own right.

Fast Five was a heist movie with all the wonderful twists and turns inherent in the genre, and in the two films since they’ve abandoned that to make straight-up action movies.  While they haven’t gone back to stealing giant safes, they have returned to meaningful third act twists and I’m so thankful for it.  There’s so many things we find out were slightly different than the first time we saw them, and it’s what these movies need to not just be an endless parade of flashy car tricks.  It needs characters, it needs stakes, and it needs to be just a little bit surprising.

Reading this back, I can see how much I’m grading The Fate of the Furious on a curve.  If this was any other movie with the flaws this one has I would probably be here tearing it apart and begging you not to see it.  I love this franchise, I love these characters, and I can’t set that aside.  There are so many little things to appreciate from an eight movie franchise that can’t be replicated.  It’s nice just to hang out with these characters and exist in their world for another couple hours.  It’s fun to pick up on the callbacks and see them pick up threads that were set down years and years ago.  I still find The Fate of the Furious as refreshing as a Corona on a hot LA afternoon— and as long as that’s true, I’ll carry water for these movies.

Box Office Democracy: “Spy”

I wonder how many excellent movies we’ve been cheated out of by Melissa McCarthy’s commitment to Mike & Molly. I understand the appeal of a regular paycheck and the success of the show has led to McCarty being the highest paid actress in Hollywood but Spy is such a good movie and couldn’t she be doing two or three of these per year instead of one and a season of bad television? Spy is the funniest movie I’ve seen in years and it isn’t close. I laughed so often and so hard I’m sure that I laughed over important dialogue and even other jokes. It’s the kind of movie that can shift the paradigm of movie comedy in the way the Judd Apatow movies of the early 2000s did and it can even be the movie you throw in your idiot friend’s face when he starts going on about how women just aren’t funny.

It is easy to praise McCarthy’s work in Spy. She’s effortlessly funny, she hits her dramatic moments, and she has an amazing physicality. I think she’s literally perfect for this role and I’m still worried I’m underselling her here. I’m also impressed at how competent they were willing to let her character be, it’s very easy to get cheap laughs out of someone being bad at their job but Susan Cooper is a good spy because she’s smart and because she’s trained very hard. A weaker movie would have been a string of pratfalls and idiot bungling. This movie doles out the bungling much more sparingly and is much better for it.

The buzz I had heard going in to this film was that Jason Statham was the breakout comic performance of the film and I didn’t think that was possible. I knew Jason Statham was funny, I had seen his work with Guy Ritchie, I has enjoyed his work in the Crank films, I thought he couldn’t surprise me in this way and I was 100% wrong. Jason Statham is funny for pretty much every second he’s on screen. I don’t think he has more than a couple lines that aren’t punchlines. His delivery is impeccable. I can’t decide if I think this is just incredible direction from Paul Feig, or if working with McCarthy brings out the best in people, or maybe we’ve all been deprived of years of work from the most unlikely comic star since it turned out Channing Tatum could steal 21 Jump Street from Jonah Hill.

I could write a gushing paragraph about every actor in Spy, the cast is so consistently amazing, but I don’t really have the space or inclination so let’s cover a bunch of people right here. Rose Byrne is terrific, between this and Bridesmaids I would be quite content to have her, McCarthy, and Feig just do movies together forever. She doesn’t have the most original comedic voice in the world but she does what she does so well. I was not familiar with Miranda Hart’s work in the UK so it’s an awful lot like a fully mature talent just sprung up at me from the ether. She’s a scene-stealer and, this might not seem remarkable, but a very big out-of-the-ordinary character that I’m never unhappy to see on screen. Jude Law looks great in a suit and is very handsome and that’s all this movie asks of him. Bobby Cannavale should really work more because I’ve never not liked him in something. I was very sure Morena Baccarin was going to be an important part of this movie when she was introduced and was very sad when she was used only sparingly.

There were a few things I thought worked less well. They go to the “You look like” joke construction a few times too often. It seems to be a McCarthy staple at this point and in a vacuum they’re all funny but at the end of a two-hour movie they aren’t hitting as hard. Peter Serafinowicz plays an aggressively flirty Italian agent that I thought was deserving of maybe 20% of the screen time he was allotted and I ended up cringing through most of his work. There are a couple jokes that use slurs for seemingly no reason other than to shock and that’s not a style of comedy I prefer. I thought a moment at the end where Cooper and Rayna Boyanov make nice was unearned and is just trading on the fact that we know the two actresses have a history. These are very small marks on an otherwise fantastic movie and nothing is ever going to connect with all of their jokes.

Paul Feig is on quite a roll with his third consecutive very funny McCarthy-led hit. In a more cynical time I would wonder if one or the other of this pairing is leaning too hard on the other, if perhaps the success of one is a smokescreen created by the supreme talent of the other but that’s just not how I want to think about things anymore. This collaboration is something special and we ought to cherish it before one of the nefarious forces in Hollywood that destroys all good things comes for this one. I thought I couldn’t be more excited for Feig and McCarthy’s Ghostbusters remake but it appears I was wrong. Hell, Spy was so good you might even be able to get me to see The Peanuts Movie, God help us all.

Box Office Democracy: Furious 7


Justin Lin was the architect of the most dramatic film franchise turnarounds in my lifetime. When he signed on to make a third Fast & Furious movie the franchise was a laughing stock (I heard more jokes about the name 2 Fast 2 Furious than any movie before or since). He would, over the course of four films, turn the franchise in to the best original action movie franchise of the modern era. Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 are the best action films of this decade and it isn’t particularly close. The mid-credits scene of Fast & Furious 6 revealing Jason Statham as the villain for the next installment was one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had in a movie theater.   If I knew anything in the world of cinema I knew Furious 7 would be a fantastic movie and that I needed to wait on the edge of my seat for it to come and deliver another transcendent action movie experience.

Then Paul Walker died.


Box Office Democracy: “The Expendables 3”

ex3-posterThe first two Expendables films worked for me in the same way old-timers days work for me in baseball.  They take a career that scarcely has any use for people over the hill and gave them a place to look relevant in a limited space.  My biggest problem with The Expendables 3 is that it deviates too much from that idea by introducing a crop of young guns that expose the existing cast as being largely too old for this line of work while the presence of the established stars steals all the gravitas from the scenes shared with the newer actors.  There are great individual performances and a couple of surprising ones. Excellent choices, but ultimately the Expendables franchise seems to be on a downward trajectory and I don’t know how it will right itself.