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I have stopped caring that the Fast and Furious cinematic universe has no interest in character development, thematic depth or complex story lines. I do not even mind that the franchise has ceased to adopt any manner of pretense against being a cheeky cash grab. I just hope they told us how and when all of the major characters obtained super-human powers.

Ever since the franchise’s fifth entry, Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew have been able to perform acts that, in some cases, would put Spider-Man to shame. Somehow, they have evolved to possess the kind of strength, durability, agility and speed hard to justify even in an over-the-top action movie. The spin-off, Hobbs and Shaw, does not just continue this tradition but elevates it to a ridiculousness that makes Police Academy look like a serious commentary on crime and police behaviour.

The plot is the sort eight-year-olds conjure up when they play make-believe with their action figures. Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) inhabit two sides of the Atlantic when they are informed of a stolen dangerous virus that could be used to devastate the human population. The main suspect is Shaw’s younger sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who was in actuality framed by a cyber-genetically enhanced former soldier (this one the movie admits is actually super-human) called Brixton (Idris Elba).

Hobbs and Shaw are recruited by the CIA and MI6, respectively, to work together to bring in Hattie and secure the virus. Although it seemed like they had gotten over their mutual hatred for each other, they do the whole routine they did in the The Fate of the Furious all over again, where they insult and humiliate each other. I guess that 135 minutes of screen time had to be filled with something.

Brixton works for a terrorist organisation known as Eteon. The organisation’s actions are informed not by money or power but an ideology that humans need an upgrade by incorporating into themselves cyber technologies. For some reason, the organisation believes that there will be weak ones left despite the possibility of an upgrade. Those are to be taken care of by the virus that first gets into the hands of Hattie.

The Fast and Furious has an astonishing capacity of sucking rather respectable directors into its creatively bankrupt universe only to sap their energy and leave them with an embarrassing entry in their filmographies. It is true that even artists have got to eat, but there are less demeaning ways of doing this.

One of these poor directors is David Leitch. He was slowly building his style with the raw and fast-paced action sequences of John Wick and Atomic Blonde. Even his direction in Deadpool 2 was able to stand out when it came to the action sequences, if not in dialogue and character and plot development.

Hobbs and Shaw reduces him to soft, bloodless and over-the-top action sequences that border on ridiculous rather than being suspenseful, thrilling or exciting. If 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road was the epitome of this decade’s action filmmaking, movies in the Fast and Furious cinematic universe make up the debasement of everything that had come to make the action genre one of the staples of mainstream entertainment.

Equally exasperating is how many accomplished actors populate the franchise. Kevin Hart deserves to be in this movie - this is all the actor has ever aspired for. And perhaps the fact that Ryan Reynolds appears in the movie could be written off as the few (many in Reynolds’ case) missteps in an as of yet blossoming career in comedy.

But nothing short of a paycheck with many zeros in it can explain why Elba would give his name to something like this. He has just gone from achieving critical success playing a gang leader in the greatest TV show of all time, The Wire, early in his career to acting in this sorry excuse of a movie. Worse, Helen Mirren, appointed as Dame, for her services appears in a movie that might as well be regarded as a rejection of the good things she has done in the past.

Hobbs and Shaw is exactly why the film industry is dying an embarrassing death. Hollywood, unable to win mainstream audiences with an offering of original entertainment, is caricaturing itself as it fizzles out of existence. The least the film can do is die a dignified death as paint does.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 10,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1006]


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