I’ve seen all of the “Fast and Furious” movies. As a reward, Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto should adopt me into that “fammm’ly” he’s always talking about between car chases. Not only would I get a souped-up, quality automobile that can survive an explosion, multiple rollovers, a trip into outer space, and a drive down the wall of a dam, I’d get to change my name to Vin Odiesel. It’s a win-win proposition, if you ask me.
All of the aforementioned fates have befallen vehicles in this series. Some of these movies have been faster than others, and some of them have left me feeling furious. But even at their worst, there’s something I find compelling about them.
It’s not the promise of preternaturally exciting car porn, though that’s the hook that keeps audiences driving themselves to theaters to experience the exploits of the Toretto clan. What keeps me watching is the incontrovertible fact that these movies are pure soap opera. “Fast X,” like its predecessors, plays like an episode of what your grandma used to call “her stories.”
I’ll tread very lightly on plot details.
Like a soap, the dialogue is intentionally melodramatic and purple. Nothing is more important than family, and the characters speak about it with such emotional reverence that we can’t help but take it seriously. Diesel usually gets these monologues, but “Fast X” ups the ante by giving the requisite speech to EGOT legend Rita Moreno. Moreno, who is 91, plays the 55-year old Diesel’s grandmother. She should have been lecturing screenwriters Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin about math.
The plots are not only preposterous, they’re also mutable — another soap opera feature. “Fast X” uses scenes from the fifth installment, 2011′s “Fast Five,” and inserts a heretofore unknown character into the lore. The new character is Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), son of the drug lord Hernan Reyes. Director Louis Leterrier adds a de-aged Momoa into those “Fast Five” scenes, making him a witness to his father’s demise.
Dante wants Dom to suffer before killing him. He concocts a plan that entails killing off his “family” while he watches. Leterrier enjoys toying with the audience’s expectations for who might not make it to the end. Suffice it to say, things do not go as planned on any of the continents where the story takes place.
As with any soap, the rivalries among a large group of characters are not only over-the-top — the dynamics can suddenly change from antagonistic to collaborative. It’s how characters played by The Rock and Jason Statham have evolved over the course of the series. They even got their own spin-off, 2019′s “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw,” which actually makes the Roman numeral X in “Fast X” a miscount.
“Fast X” even ends with a nighttime soap-style season-ending cliffhanger, as it’s the first film in this current trilogy that will close out the series. Apparently, I was the only person in the theater who didn’t know that beforehand. Imagine my surprise when the damn movie didn’t have a conclusion!
The characteristic that most makes these films feel like “All My Car Drifts” is their insistence that we, the viewers, must be intimately familiar with events that may have happened decades before the current story line. The allusions in these movies lock out new viewers. If “Fast X” is your first movie, don’t bother. For the full effect, you need to have not only seen all the movies, but have taken copious notes to figure out simple questions like “who the hell is that?” and “what on Earth are they doing?”
In addition to Dom, the characters fans know and love are all present here. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) are still the comic-relief bickering duo on Team Toretto. Their banter is starting to wear thin. Dom’s wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and kid, Little B (Leo Abelo Perry), are around to (as usual) be put in danger. Toretto’s younger sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), is also there to offer support.
Charlize Theron is back as the villainous Cipher, whose name should clue you in on what her specialty is. Cipher and Letty get one of the best fights in series history, one that occurs during a jailbreak culminating with an appearance by an actor I had forgotten was in a F&F movie.
“Fast X” is watchable, and its car chases are often exciting, but it’s not as satisfying as the best F&F movies (“Fast and Furious 6,” “Furious 7,″ and the extremely ridiculous “F9″). Part of the problem is Dante. Clearly, he’s psychotic, but Momoa plays him like a supervillain in a lesser James Bond movie. He seems unstoppable, which limits any form of suspense, and his flamboyant nature skews uncomfortably close to gay stereotype.
This installment boils down to several battles between Dom and Dante. The acting styles of Momoa and Diesel are an unintentionally hilarious study in contrasts; imagine the Iron Giant being pursued by Divine’s Dawn Davenport from John Waters’s “Female Trouble.” If only it were as fun as it sounds.
Still, as someone who watched his “stories” on TV for decades, I will be back for parts 11 and 12. I always come back, no matter how bad the plotlines. The desire to see how it all ends overrules common sense. It’s what hooks you in the first place.
Directed by Louis Leterrier. Written by Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin. Starring Vin Diesel, Jason Momoa, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Charlize Theron, Jordana Brewster, Leo Abelo Perry, Rita Moreno. 141 minutes. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, suburbs. PG-13 (fast cars, furious violence)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.