‘Fast & Furious 9’ review: slick but safe sequel never reaches top gear

Life in the outside lane feels fractionally less fun in the petrol-soaked franchise's latest lap

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    The ninth film in the Fast & Furious franchise might be the most ridiculous yet. At this point, it’s hard to tell, though the tone here is set early on when John Cena’s new villain drives his Ford Mustang off a cliff and gets picked up by a futuristic “magnet plane”. For the record, “magnet plane” is a term coined by director Justin Lin’s son Oqwe, who apparently came up with the idea when he was eight or nine years old in a production meeting. Given that the last two films grossed well over a billion dollars each, let’s hope he negotiated a cut in profits.

    Anyway, this typically outlandish stunt does take place within the framework of a passable plot. F&F has always gone big on kinship – what is Dom Toretto’s street racing crew if not a chosen family? – so it’s a decent idea to steep this instalment in bad blood. Dom (Vin Diesel) and wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) might think they’ve retired to a quiet life in the country, but when Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob (Cena) teams up with billionaire playboy Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) to take over the world – seriously, that is F9‘s basic premise – only one posse of petrolheads can stop him.

    Fast & Furious 9
    Cardi B pops up for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. CREDIT: Universal

    Some subtlety-free flashback scenes establish the decades-old beef between Dom and Jakob, which stems from their father’s untimely death in a racing accident, but they soon become a distraction from events in the present day. Jakob and Otto have hatched a plan to steal a device called Aries that will give them the God-like ability to hack into any computer weapons system. But cleverly – and conveniently for the plot – its inventors have split it into two parts and created a secret operating key to prevent it from being misused. Can Dom and the gang keep them from piecing together in time? You’ve guessed it: F9 boils down to a high-stakes race to the finish.

    Along the way there’s a fun but uneventful cameo from Cardi B, who’s already signed up for a presumably meatier role in F10, and a game return appearance from Helen Mirren as cockney crim Queenie Shaw. A scene in which she and Dom careen through the streets of London – with Queenie behind the wheel, which Mirren must have loved – is a tongue-in-cheek highlight. Also back, but less winningly, is Charlize Theron, who’s an oddly peripheral presence here as ice-cool cyberterrorist Cipher. For most of her screen time, she’s quite literally stuck in a clear perspex box. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris‘ Bridges) continue to supply much of the light relief – and also shoulder the most preposterous plot developments – while British crew member Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) gets lumbered with the clumsy tech-speak.

    It all accelerates towards a genuinely thrilling finale that pivots between full-throttle action and intense sentimentality, making Fast & Furious 9 feel a bit like a bear hug from your gruff older brother after you’ve nearly chucked up on a roller coaster. Like so many things in the F&F franchise, it shouldn’t work but somehow does. Here’s to the next billion dollars at the box office.

    Details

    • Director: Justin Lin
    • Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Nathalie Emmanuel
    • Release date: June 17 (AU cinemas)
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