Review of “Fast X”

Dedication to one’s family is often played for laughs in movies and TV shows. The father intent on being at every little league and peewee football game is often seen as weak and pathetic by unmarried or childless characters. Moms volunteering for various committees at a child’s school are sometimes portrayed as having an ulterior motive, such as trying to impress the wealthy parent or as a bid for power within the clique of the PTA. This goes both ways as those parents completely uninvolved in their kid’s activities frequently are viewed as slackers and a point of comedic derision. It seems that there’s no pleasing everyone, no matter how involved or hands off parents are. Family has been a big motivator in the various storylines in “The Fast and the Furious” films, except the first three. In the original, Dom says he lives life a quarter mile at a time and when he’s behind the wheel, there’s nothing else, not even family. Since the first film in 2001, the franchise has evolved from a movie about street racers making their money by stealing truckloads of home electronics to a globetrotting group of superspies saving the world in sequel after sequel. At the heart of the later films was Dominic Toretto’s mantra about it all being about family. If you attack one member of his crew, you are attacking his family. Now, in “Fast X,” Dom’s family is facing a threat to every member from a villain that’s lost his family at the hands of Dom and his crew. Thankfully, all the cars are still running and full of nitrous oxide tanks.

Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) is surrounded by all the ones he loves, including Abuelita Toretto (Rita Moreno), for one of the famous family cookouts. After they eat, Roman, Tej and Ramsey (Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel) are headed to Rome on a mission for The Agency to steal a computer chip. Dom is sitting this one out to stay home with Letty and Brian (Michelle Rogriguez and Leo Abelo Perry) and Roman is in charge, much to Tej’ chagrin. That night, Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up bleeding at Dom’s door. She tells him how Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), son of Brazilian drug kingpin Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), killed during one of Dom’s missions 10 years ago, is looking to exact revenge on Dom by killing everyone in his family/crew then killing Dom. Agents of The Agency show up to take Cipher to one of their black site prisons. The next day, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) arrives to tell Dom and Letty about Cipher’s imprisonment. Dom asks about Roman and his crew as he can’t get in touch with them. Little Nobody doesn’t know what Dom is talking about as they have no operations in Rome. Dom realizes they’ve been sent on a fake mission by Dante and The Agency gets Dom and Letty to Rome to try and save them. Dante takes over the truck carrying not a computer chip, but a massive bomb, drives the vehicle remotely, and releases the bomb trying to blow up the Vatican and frame Dom and his people as terrorists. Dom diverts the bomb into a river, but it still causes death and destruction, putting all of them on the Most Wanted list worldwide. Letty is captured and sent to the same black site prison as Cipher. Dom, Roman, Tej and Ramsey escape, but Dom is separated from the others and Dante has hacked into their bank accounts, leaving them broke. Mr. Nobody’s daughter Tess (Brie Larson), who also works for The Agency, visits new Agency head Aimes (Alan Ritchson) to argue on Dom and his crew’s behalf, but Aimes is unmoved and puts the full force of The Agency into finding them all. Tess quietly vows to help them on her own. Dom has few options and a scattered crew, and Dante has evil plans for all of Dom’s family.

No one has ever accused the “Fast and Furious” films of being too subtle or logical. The soundtrack is loud, filled with thumping hip hop beats, explosions, screeching tires and the roar of supercharged, NOS-boosted engines. The plot is convoluted, requiring insertion of a new character or two into 2011’s “Fast Five” and the McGuffin of “Furious Seven” from 2015. The laws of physics and gravity are broken regularly, cars and their drivers survive massive crashes and explosions to drive off to the next action scene. Characters make perplexing decisions that puts everyone at risk and Dom still says it’s all for “family.” We’ve seen this all before, perhaps done better in “Fast Seven” with the emotional farewell to the late Paul Walker, but what cannot be said about “Fast X” is it’s boring.

The plot races along, violating the usual filmic speed limit that is in place, so the audience doesn’t get confused about where characters are and what they are doing. In the “Fast and Furious” films, the more audience confusion the better, so no one notices how little sense this all makes. Both the good guys and bad guys predict exactly what the other is going to do and plan accordingly. Fortunately, law enforcement is clueless and always seems to be caught off guard, otherwise none of these films would be more than 10 minutes long.

Director Louis Leterrier just barely manages to keep all the plates spinning while also juggling a dozen balls as the film abruptly cuts from one European locale to a shot of the Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro to Los Angeles to the middle of nowhere, and another of our scattered Toretto family.

No one goes to a “Fast and Furious” film expecting deep introspection and serious stories. We want to see the action, the races, the cars, the beautiful women, the fights, the exotic locales and the scenery chewing villain. “Fast X” has all that in spades, especially Jason Momoa as Dante Reyes. Momoa is clearly having a great time hamming it up as the big bad that is wrapping up the franchise. Dante is the “Fast” universe version of Batman’s Joker. He’s flamboyant, flippant, brilliant, and effortlessly homicidal. Dante dresses and paints his fingernails in a color that compliments his car. He’s as funny as he is dangerous. Momoa is the best addition to the franchise possibly ever.

The rest of the actors all take a back seat to the action (and Momoa), doing what they can with what they are given in the script written by Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin. Vin Diesel does appear to squeeze out a tear during a scene about midway through the film in a scene set in Rio. The emotion is fleeting, and the rest of his performance is vintage Diesel: Gravelly growling dialog with the occasional barked commands into a walkie-talkie. Charlize Theron is again under-utilized. Of course, with a cast this size, 19 actors credited on the film’s Wikipedia page not counting cameos, even Academy Award winners are going to have a minimal presence to allow the main villain and the long-time stars to shine. I enjoyed Brie Larson’s Tess (Larson is also an Academy Award winner) but found her performance very similar in tone to her recent Nissan car ads. Tyrese Gibson is put slightly more out front leading the Italian mission despite it being a red herring and takes on some responsibility for its failure. He’s also still the film’s comic relief so some things never change. Perhaps the producers are looking at making Roman the next team leader when Dom, Letty and some of the others join Brian in retirement. There’s nothing movie studios love more than beating the same dead money horse if they think there’s another billion dollars to be made.

“Fast X” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some suggestive material. The car crashes are too numerous to count as some are recycled from “Fast Five” as well as a brief montage of other films in the series. There are countless fist fights, shootings and stabbings. There is one impalement. None of the violence is as bloody as it should be to keep the rating where it is. The suggestive comment is a brief scene of Dom and Letty apparently preparing to have sex, along with the obligatory close ups of women’s behinds at the street race. Foul language is scattered and relatively mild.

“Fast X’ is the very definition of a summer popcorn film. While it is technically not summer, it is late May and movie studios are beginning to return to their pre-pandemic release habits. Big, loud, bombastic crowd pleasers starting in May and running until Labor Day. “Fast X” continues the series trend of ignoring reality and physics to create giant action set pieces and cars that survive practically everything, including giant bomb blasts, driving through concrete walls, dropping out the back of a flying airplane and zooming down the face of a massive dam. Is it a good movie? No. Is it a fun movie filled with humor, action, likable characters and a villain you almost want to win? Yes. Like I said it’s the definition of a summer popcorn movie.

“Fast X” gets four stars out of five.

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Review of “Our Brand is Crisis”

Former political strategist Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is out of politics after several successful, and not so successful, campaigns. She has suffered with depression and substance abuse (leading to her nickname Calamity Jane) and being away from the stress, doing pottery in her cabin in the woods, has helped calm her mind. Nell and Ben (Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie) visit Jane hoping to get her to join their efforts on the campaign of Bolivian presidential candidate Senator Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) who is way behind in the polls with about three months left before election day. Advising the leading candidate is Jane’s rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton). Pat is more than willing to do anything to help his candidate win, a lesson Jane has learned several times already. Every time she has faced him, Jane has lost. Ben impresses upon Jane the importance of the election for the people of Bolivia which has a history of violent uprisings and bloody coup d’état. Feeling the rush of a political campaign quickly envelopes Jane in the excitement and fervor of competition and dirty tricks and soon some of her old habits begin to resurface.

“Our Brand is Crisis” is based on a 2005 documentary of the same name that followed American political consultants as they worked with candidates in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Having not seen that documentary I can’t say if the level of dirty tricks and shenanigans match up with what is in the movie. I can say the movie plays a bit of a dirty trick on the audience as it pounds the message of “win at all costs” for most of its running time then tries to become a feel-good story of redemption in the last few minutes. Like many sudden changes of heart, I didn’t buy it.

Sandra Bullock is fantastic in “Our Brand is Crisis.” Her intensity and comic sensibility mix well to make Jane Bodine a fascinating character. Starting out as a bit of an emotional and physical wreck, the pace and seriousness of the campaign begins to bring Jane back to life. Before long, she is a huge cheerleader for her candidate and it sweeps the other characters and the audience along whether we like it or not. Bullock is the soul of the film. It doesn’t work if the audience doesn’t accept Jane as a juggernaut, throwing out ideas and strategies while working with a candidate that doesn’t always believe in her plans. This leads to some of the best moments in the film when Jane must make the candidate agree with her ideas even when they go against his personal beliefs. Sometimes the dirtiest tricks are played against the candidate for whom you work.

Movies like “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Primary Colors” give what feels like an inside look at how modern political campaigns are run. As the old saying goes, “Don’t ask how the sausage is made.” While it is likely the film is highly fictionalized and the kinds of things shown don’t actually happen it does paint a picture that is somewhat damning of the campaign process and how easily the electorate can be swayed or distracted by meaningless controversies. “Our Brand is Crisis” takes a cynical look at modern politics and is, for the most part, highly entertaining.

Where the movie lost me is in the final few minutes. Without giving too much away, we are shown a driven, dedicated soldier that charges the enemy with no mercy then at the end we are shown the equivalent of that same soldier now walking a picket line protesting against everything she used to stand for. The movie wants us to believe everything Jane has done leads her to a moral awakening. The movie uses a friendship that develops between Jane and a young volunteer she names Eddie, played by Reynaldo Pacheco, as the catalyst of that awakening. Considering how long Jane has been fighting in the electoral trenches, it doesn’t seem like enough of a motivation for her to lay down her rhetorical weapons and begin fighting for the other side. It feels like an attempt to turn this political machine into something touchy-feely and it makes everything that comes before it meaningless. Perhaps that is the point: That everything she has done before was meaningless and now she is trying to make a positive impact on the world. If that was the message then the script writer didn’t do a good enough job of making the case that Jane was ripe for a conversion. Instead, it feels more like a sell out and a cheap attempt to force a happy ending on a film that didn’t necessarily need one.

“Our Brand is Crisis” is rated R for some sexual references and language. The sexual references are rather mild and there aren’t many of them. Foul language is scattered but sometimes intense.

I could almost overlook the ending of “Our Brand is Crisis” because Sandra Bullock is so good as Jane Bodine. The rest of the cast does a great job as well with kudos to Billy Bob Thornton for giving us a slimy but likable villain; however, the ending works so hard at trying to make us feel bad about enjoying the hijinks of the main characters it’s like a parent wagging a finger in your face for doing something bad. I don’t appreciate being scolded by my entertainment when it does such a great job of making Jane and Pat so amusing in their deviltry. The movie tries to have it both ways but fails to make a strong enough case for the main character’s conversion to philanthropy.

“Our Brand is Crisis” gets four stars for everything except the last five minutes.

This week it’s the return of Brown…Charlie Brown. There’s also some British spy movie coming out. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

The Peanuts Movie—


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