‘Hobbs & Shaw” is fine summer meathead entertainment, a brainless bone-cruncher with clever players, a decent script, and enough demolition derby mayhem to satisfy the yahoo lurking within the most civilized of moviegoers. The movie pretty much evaporates upon viewing, but isn’t that what you want around the first week in August? Something that tickles the ganglions and charges you up to make it across the finish line to Labor Day?
The best part? You don’t need to have seen a single entry in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, of which “Hobbs and Shaw” is putatively a part. (The official title is “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.”) Indeed, it’s probably more confusing if you have, since the sour-faced British mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) was introduced in “Furious 7” (2015) as an uber-villain, only to undergo a wholesale personality transplant and become part of the team in “Fate of the Furious” (2017).
Similarly, government agent Lucas Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) arrived in “Fast 5” (2011) as a law-and-order nemesis and quickly got absorbed as a good guy. Now the two bickering macho men are featured in their own spinoff — which gets stolen out from under them by Vanessa Kirby as a badass British agent who happens to be Shaw’s sister.
You might have seen Kirby pocket the last “Mission: Impossible” movie, or her hotsy-totsy Princess Margaret, in Netflix’s “The Crown.” Here her character, Hattie Shaw, an MI6 operative gone rogue, allows herself to be injected with a bio-engineered virus in order to keep the villains from getting at it. Basically just another day at the office, and Kirby’s mussy, sardonic glamour is an effective antidote to all the manly preening around her.
“Hobbs & Shaw” assembles its plot off the shelf from decades of post-James Bond action extravaganzas. The arch-villain is Brixton (Idris Elba, radiating menace and charisma), a former colleague of Shaw’s who has been augmented with cyber-technology that renders him a modern-day Terminator. He wants the virus to weed out the weak so humanity can evolve to the next level of supermen yada-yada-yada. The movie mostly exists to let its title characters throw insults, punches, and heavy masonry at each other while Kirby stands around as if she’s seen it done better.
Johnson is absurdly broad in the chest and Statham is a lanky stick — they’re a Mutt and Jeff act, but sideways. The script (by series regular Chris Morgan with Drew Pearce) lets the duo’s loathing play out through invective that pops like strings of firecrackers. Shaw calls Hobbs a “giant tattooed baby.” Hobbs can’t stand Shaw’s “nasally, prepubescent Harry Potter voice.” In a movie like this, it must be love. (That’s partly why Hattie’s there, to strike sparks with Hobbs and keep everything nice and heterosexual.)
The director is David Leitch, who proved his genre mettle with the first “John Wick” (2014), the second “Deadpool” (2018), and “Atomic Blonde” (2017), which couldn’t stop moving long enough to make sense. Here he keeps the tone light and the action relentless — the movie’s fast but, surprisingly, not furious. Given two main characters to work with, Leitch uses foreground and background to often funny ends, and there’s a multi-tiered chase through central London that’s an effective summer-movie defibrillator.
Against that, “Hobbs and Shaw” makes room for a few Special Guest Appearances by well-known comic stars; they get a rise from the audience but quickly wear out their welcome and slow the movie down. A side-trip to Moscow features a genuinely terrible performance by Eiza Gonzalez (“Baby Driver”) as the lingerie-clad leader of an all-female heist team. “Do you think I’m stupid?” an exasperated Shaw asks in one scene. “Of course I think you’re stupid,” says Hobbs. So’s the movie, and never more so than when it wears that stupidity proudly.
But it’s also smart enough to bring back Helen Mirren as Shaw’s right spiv of a muvver, to give the requisite eccentric-professor role over to the invaluable Eddie Marsan (“Ray Donovan”), and to send everyone off to Samoa for a Hobbs clan reunion and a climactic donnybrook with Brixton’s army that manages to take guns out of the equation and lets all the characters hug it out with fists, farming implements, and a few incendiary devices.
By then, the movie has thrown continuity and plot logic to the wind, but the stars make it click, by which I mean all four of them: Johnson, Statham, Kirby, and Elba. Mostly Johnson and Kirby. The “Fast and Furious” movies tend to take their tonal cue from the glum-faced Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, whereas this side trip is perked up by the chemistry between the most likable action behemoth in the business and a spry, playful actress. All the films in this franchise are family affairs, but you may find yourself wanting to spend more time on this branch of the tree.
★ ★ ★
FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by David Leitch. Written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs; Jordan’s IMAX, Natick and Reading. 135 minutes. PG-13 (prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material, and some strong language).