“The Fast and the Furious” hasn’t become a billion-dollar global franchise because of its scintillating dialogue and high-minded drama. It’s all about the cars, the action, the international settings and the good-looking cast.
So don’t give too much thought to the story holes and convoluted plot in “The Fate of the Furious ,” the eighth installment in the saga. If things don’t add up or characters killed off in previous films suddenly re-emerge, just go with it, knowing that it’s leading up to an epic final chase across a remote Russian ice field between sports cars, Humvees and a nuclear submarine.
Suspension of disbelief is required for these films. Remember in “Furious 7” when parachute-equipped cars fell from a cargo plane and the drivers were shown “steering” the airborne vehicles? Here, they speed across ice with unbelievable accuracy. One character even wakeboards through the tundra on a detached car door.
“F8” begins with Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Havana. Charmed by the city’s car culture, they’re soon in a street race — a thrilling sequence with motorcycles swooping in to stop traffic as the drivers speed by. After finishing with his car on fire, Dom is approached by the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron), who blackmails him into betraying his colleagues and working for her.
Despite her ridiculous hairdo and having to utter such lines as “Your team’s about to go up against the only thing they can’t handle: You,” Theron is a great villain. She anchors the story with her gravitas by making Cipher a convincingly capable and determined foe.
Meanwhile, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) taps Dom and his ace driving team to help recover a missing electro-magnetic pulse weapon. The job brings them to Berlin, where Dom abandons his crew and links up with Cipher.
Hobbs ends up in jail, practically cellmates with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the villain from “Furious 7.” They’re set free by secret operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who wants the adversaries to work together to find Cipher and Dom.
Joined by franchise stalwarts Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), the crew heads to New York City, where some of the film’s most spectacular car action is set. One scene shows hundreds of driverless cars coming to life at the hands of a hacker. Vehicles go flying out of showrooms and crashing onto the streets.
Directed by F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”), “F8” delivers the same big scope and quick pace of the previous “Fast” films, though he cuts together the fight sequences so quickly they’re hard to appreciate. The action satisfies, even if the lines veer past campy into full-on cheese territory and the story is hazier than the smoke from a broken tailpipe.
The cast and the cars are what carry this franchise. Johnson is eminently likable, Gibson and Bridges provide comic relief and Rodriguez is full of heart. Statham shines during a sequence where he navigates a deadly gun battle while toting a baby in a bassinet — especially sweet considering the actor is about to become a first-time father. Helen Mirren makes a charming, if odd, cameo. And Scott Eastwood joins the ensemble as Little Nobody, a cute but unnecessary character likely put in place because two more “Fast” films are planned.
It’s hard to imagine where “Fast” will go next. They’ve already incorporated all manner of motor vehicles, including a helicopter and a submarine. But the franchise has a proven formula, so long as they keep the tires screeching and the cast intact.
“The Fate of the Furious,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language.” Running time: 160 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .