The Fate of the Furious feels like a Fast and Furious installment made by someone who had a friend tell him about the franchise without ever actually seeing any of the movies. Legally speaking, the components are all here. Vin Diesel incoherently mumbles about family before incoherently yelling about family, a personality-free villain confusingly does bad things for vague reasons and Tyrese Gibson balances on the knife’s edge of “comedic relief” and “I’ll pay someone to mute his dialogue.” Yet the chemical reaction that has turned unabashedly silly nonsense into entertainment gold for the past flicks never takes place, leaving a mangled pile of inert action gibberish. It’s like a drunk frat-bro making “pew pew pew” sounds into a toilet.

Nostalgic homages are now so perfunctory, The Fate of the Furious opens with near fan fiction about its own series. Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) engage in a street race in Cuba with a pinkslip on the line. “Hey,” the film says, “You remember when this was a franchise about cars? Hahaha! Anyway, here’s a plot reminiscent of a wretched Die Hard sequel.” Cipher (Charlize Theron) blackmails Dom into betraying his team for hokey, somewhat offensive reasons.

Once Dom “goes rogue,” which is a designation you’d think would be assumed about an international criminal responsible for billions in collateral damage, the good guys join forces with former adversaries, as is another tradition in the series. Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and Letty join up with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) in a chase around the globe. Traitorous actions that put innocent lives at risk culminate in an explosive sequence that ends in Russia, a series of events likely to one day be called “The Trump Scenario.”

Because no “evil hacker” has ever been charismatic or interesting in any movie ever made, Theron is inexcusably wasted. She’s left to wear a hairstyle that screams “What’s intersectional feminism?” and bark complex dialogue like “Get them!” Returning characters are given no growth or shining moments, and the newest addition to the unit, Scott Eastwood, feels like a concession to the Generic White Dude Enthusiast lobby. Worse yet, a former love interest of Dom’s, Elena (Elsa Pataky), is brought back only to be dismissively “fridged.” The series has generally resisted garbage behavior like engaging in the lazy, callous screenwriting practice of killing a woman to motivate a man. It stands out as even grosser here, as the obligatory wrap-up family barbeque sure is “cleaner” without Elena’s problematic presence…

The high-level action and gleeful explosive shenanigans are top notch and should lead to box office returns that obfuscate the issues that will inevitably kill this once-delightful franchise. You make eight of something, at least a few won’t turn out right, just ask a Kennedy. There’s still hope here. But The Fate of the Furious was the first installment in a while that emitted an inevitable portent of doom we’ve all come to accept as a part of life these days.

Grade = C-

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