I may be misremembering—something about Fast & Furious warps my brain—but I think Fast X has more footage from past Fast films than of Vin Diesel speaking. The opening sequence is the Fast Five heist again (people sure loved it the first time) with just a few new additions to the 12-year-old footage (like Jason Momoa, who was secretly there the whole time, and some John Wick-esque stylized subtitles that scream “graphic design is my passion”). After Dom and fam are framed for a terrorist attack (a too-common consequence of street racing), their former spy agency floats scenes from previous movies around as “most wanted” clips. Expository monologues, of which are there many, flash back to the past with abandon. The franchise is eating its own exhaust.

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But that’s to be expected. Fast X—the first of a multi-part finale—is about the past coming back to bite (as were Furious 7 and F9, but nevertheless). Fast Five’s vault heist left a drug lord dead and a son (Momoa’s new villain) hungry for vengeance, endangering the Fast family like most things they’ve ever seen. And thank god for that: before the threat arrives, the fam’s corny joke-offs and Corona-laden dinners are shot like a damn commercial, all saturated colors and flat, over-lit compositions. That’s still a problem when the action kicks in, but at least the cars move too fast for a commercial comparison. 

The set pieces—a rolling bomb in Rome, a street race in Rio—are more CGI-heavy than those of the last few entries. Justin Lin, practical effects wizard and the franchise’s best director, reportedly quit Fast X over Vin Diesel’s ego, making room for Now You See Me director Louis Leterrier, who brings us closer than ever to the “cars” and “explosions” by virtue of them not being real. This loses the weight and sense of space that practical effects necessitate—keeping real action legible is an art of its own—but the tradeoff is getting more balls-to-the-walls car stunts. Or at least it should be. In reality, only two scenes match the glee of F9’s vine swinging, space travel, or magnet truck, or the endless runway of Fast & Furious 6, or the self-driving car army of Fate of the Furious—and both good ideas are over in a flash. Fast X is sprinkled with fun moves, but it’s near bereft of the sheer, silly bravado that makes these things memorable, which is especially a shame given the action’s potential. Momoa’s whole thing is that he has all the money and tech and mercenaries in the world to create whatever dastardly traps he wants, but the film’s idea pool is rather tepid—its setup exceeds its imagination.

That deficiency is felt everywhere. The family’s employment with a spy agency lends them a steady raison d’être, but the series still fails to make spy gear visually interesting; everything looks like plastic and whirs like an electric fan. There’s no tech fetish to match the car fetish. And while the spy shenanigans allow the possibility of zanier action, it utterly obliterates the tension: too many conflicts are solved by a new tech McGuffin or the appearance of a spy with more skills and resources than the last one. Escalating conflict no longer means wilder car stunts. Add the cherry on top of no one ever dying—there’s yet another resurrection in this one—and Fast X becomes a vacuous, stakesless slog.

Momoa brings charm to the drudgery, but his villain is queer-coded in a way that ultimately feels regressive. I’m not sure Fast X—which returns to leering at women’s asses after a brief reprieve in F9—is the movie to handle this kind of thing. The character seems specifically tailored for 2000s-style risibility. He’d fit nicely in an earlier Fast & Furious, which is the furthest thing from a compliment. 

The only thing holding the film together is Diesel’s earnest belief that he’s making a populist soap opera masterpiece, which bleeds through his body language despite his oddly laconic performance. He’s a bland hero—burdened with the general inclination to do good—but you can tell he thinks the people need this. If the franchise sinks lower than this, though, few are even going to want it.

½   (1.5/5)