Aside from the paycheck, it’s hard to figure why Vin Diesel revived “xXx” recently. He’s already got a punk espionage vehicle that’s bigger, cooler, and more satisfyingly over-the-top. You know it as his onetime tour through street-racing culture, the “Fast & Furious” franchise.
The eighth installment, “The Fate of the Furious,” finds Diesel steering the series farther than ever from its original thug-life turf, joined by Charlize Theron. (Maybe she was lured by her “Mad Max” gearhead affinity — “Fast & Furiosa?”) Yet again, though, Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his crew get us to go along on a joyride that’s gleefully nuts. These movies are so bent on playing like the millennial answer to Bond, this one even ships its Lambos and Chargers to the Arctic for an extended climax on ice. “Moonraker” is another 007 analogy that applies — the spectacle is just that unabashedly out there.
Polar chaos notwithstanding, “Fate” delivers action with more consistent visual precision than in the last couple of films, as newly enlisted director F. Gary Gray accesses the flair he brought to 2003’s “The Italian Job.” (Theron starred in Gray’s MINI Cooperama, as did “Furious” returnee Jason Statham.)
The engines start revving in Havana, where Dom is honeymooning with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and still squeezing in the occasional street duel. (That scenery! That exploding, unstoppable motor!) Enter Theron’s dreadlocked, terrifically arch cyberterrorist, with a bargaining chip that coerces Dom into sabotaging an ensuing government mission. Bad news for team wrangler Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), fresh from soccer-dad duty (!), and Dom’s other peeps (Rodriguez, goofy Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, whose moniker seems increasingly on point for these shindigs).
Disavowed Hobbs is jailed, thrown together with past collar Shaw (Statham, in a surprise-filled encore that’s hugely entertaining). Cue a brutally adrenalizing escape that puts “Prison Break” to shame. Then a Dom-versus-everyone sequence in New York that’s heavily digitized, but also heavy on trippy sci-fi speculation about smart-car technology. And then that improbable run up north, snow tires be darned.
Even amid the nonsense, the movie capably sells its all-about-family theme, narratively and otherwise. Dom’s mysterious betrayal makes for good, soapy drama. Various characters have family ties that cleverly build intrigue. And for all the gossip about Johnson and Diesel feuding, this group seems tight, down to organically incorporated nods to late star Paul Walker. They’re fast, but they take time for that.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
Directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Chris Morgan. Starring Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 136 minutes. PG-13 (prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, language).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.