The trailer for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is one of 2019’s best films. It’s a sublime hodgepodge of ‘roided-out excess featuring cartoonish action, terrible one-liners, a cyborg villain and a perpetually sweaty Dwayne Johnson. Between that trailer and the title’s double ampersands, it’s clear director David Leitch hoped to make a modern update of the 1989 brosploitation classic Tango & Cash.
Regrettably, Hobbs & Shaw contains little of that movie’s endearing stupidity (or latent homoreticism for that matter); instead it overstuffs a 132-minute runtime with graceless, repetitive action and mind-numbing exposition. As a fan of what the Fast & Furious franchise has grown into over the past decade — namely, a moronic superhero soap-opera — this spinoff lands as a massive disappointment.
Devotees of the F&F flicks are largely divided on the character Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who, as a villain in the sixth and seventh installments, murdered fan-favorite character Han Seoul-Oh only to reappear as a reluctant good guy in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. If that sounds like total nonsense, well, it is. And that’s partly the fun of a series whose baffling retconning and intricate universe-building rivals only the Saw and Avengers films.
Even detractors had to admit Fate’s pairing of Shaw and Samoan supercop Hobbs (Johnson) was among its highlights, so naturally, Universal went ahead and greenlit a spinoff for the duo. Financially, it’s a savvy move, following Marvel by expanding the mothership franchise with smaller side adventures for popular characters. Hobbs & Shaw breaks away from the series’ obsession with #Family (although there’s definitely some of that in the third act) and hilariously self-serious melodrama for a buddy action-comedy. At least that’s what it should be.
Things begin in a promisingly stupid manner, as bad boy Brixton (Idris Elba, playing a freakin’ cyborg yet seemingly having no fun at all) enacts his Plan for World-Domination© (which involves unleashing a virus dubbed Snowflake). His actions, of course, catch the attention of Hobbs and Shaw’s separate government employers. Employers who mutually agree that Hobbs and Shaw simply must join forces to stop Elba’s superpowered machine man. And boy, do they not get along with one another!
Talk about a simple premise, right? Well, screenwriters Chris Morgan (a series mainstay) and Drew Pearce would beg to differ. The story frequently grinds to a halt for Hobbs, Shaw and newcomer Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) to argue with one another about their plan, Brixton’s plan or inane details about the virus. While I would never describe the Fast & Furious movies as light on their feet, the amount of momentum-killing exposition here is nothing short of merciless.
Enough time is wasted on this kind of dialogue that makes it almost impossible to stay engaged. The film sporadically comes to life, but not often enough to earn back any goodwill. There are a few scenes where Statham and Johnson are allowed to flex their comedic muscles trading absurd insults worthy of a Will Ferrell / Adam McKay joint. A hysterical sequence on an airplane finds the two engaged in a heated verbal battle, only to get interrupted by an air marshal desperate to hang with some alphas — proof there’s an effective summer action-comedy buried beneath this bloat.
Regarding said action, Hobbs & Shaw is shockingly lackluster. Action of this scale necessitates all the CG money can buy, however, the impressive blend of practical and digital effects seen in series highlights like Fast Five is all but missing. The digitized mayhem on screen (and there’s plenty of it) is never once convincing and inspires boredom rather than gleeful cackling during a moment like when Johnson yanks a helicopter to the ground with an enormous chain. The hand-to-hand combat — sequences Leitch showed great mastery over as the director of Atomic Blonde and co-director of John Wick — quickly grows tiresome as the same spins, kicks and camera angles are recycled each time our heroes square off with a baddie.
Hobbs & Shaw should’ve been a sure thing for devotees of delightfully dumb action. On the contrary, it’s just another bland actioner from Johnson, who’s slowly amassed a filmography of obscenely expensive blockbusters doomed to disappear from public consciousness the instant they leave theaters (see: Skyscraper, San Andreas, Hercules, Rampage, etc).
At least we’ll always have that super-rad trailer.