Lots of yelling, shooting and car revving this week.
The movies’ most monotone man, Vin Diesel, is back in the final installment (well, the first of three final installments) of the long-running Fast & the Furious series. He plays Dominic Torretto, a guy who went from being obsessed with cars, street racing, and the occasional low-level dvd player heist to being the best thief criminal in the entire world. We like him, though, because he’s all about family – his family consists of other criminals who do heists and drink Corona with him. Why am I explaining this to you? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m actually wondering. If you’re reading this review, you know what this dumb series is about.
What started out as a lazy Point Break rip-off subbing in drag racing for surfing soon became a defiantly stupid but wildly entertaining film series that thrived on how implausible it got. Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, and Furious 7 represented the high point of the series, striking a perfect balance between stupid and entertaining. The Fate of the Furious (missed opportunity not titling it F8 for the Furious) and F9 represented a backslide in quality, though not quite as bad as those early 2 Fast 2 Furious days. Still, it was clear the formula had dried up. It brings me no pleasure to say Fast X does little to jumpstart the series in a fresh direction. It’s mildly entertaining, but we’ve seen everything before. With ten movies thus far, The Fast & the Furious has done everything it can, so it’s not too much of a shame this is the purported end of the franchise. Still, do we really need three 2.5-hour movies to bring Dominic & Family to a close? I really don’t think so.
The best thing Fast X has going for it is a ridiculously entertaining villain in Jason Momoa. He’s a very theatrical, super bro dipshit that’s like if you took Heath Ledger‘s Joker and put him in a blender with Stifler from American Pie. I don’t know if I’d call it a “layered” performance, but he’s having more fun than anyone on screen. However, he’s not on screen nearly enough to make up for how tedious this one gets. The “insane” action sequences just don’t hit like they used to, and I found myself mildly bored in the theater while motorcycles were jumping over tanks and shit. John Cena, who plays Dom’s once evil but now lovely brother, and he’s very good, but the rest of the cast (minus Momoa) feel as bored as I am with this series. Fast X is a slight step up from F9, primarily due to Momoa and an outrageous final action sequence involving Dom driving fully vertically down a dam while outrunning explosions. My buddy Kyle and I laughed pretty hard at that one. I’ll definitely be first in line to see the final two installments of this Fast X trilogy. Still, I’m not expecting much, even if they are bringing The Rock back. Grade: C (In Theaters)
This week, the biggest surprise for me is how much I loved Matthew Johnson‘s tragicomic biopic on the two Canadian guys that made the first smartphone before getting toppled by Apple. Taking place from 1996 to 2008, the always delightful Jay Baruchel (This Is the End, She’s Out of My League, Undeclared) plays Research in Motion CEO Mike Lazaridis, a shy nerd who is excellent at computers but awful at people. His company, which is basically a bunch of desks and computers inhabited by super nerd gamers, is hemorrhaging money. His #2, Doug Fregin (the film’s writer/director Matthew Johnson), is more concerned with what they’re screening at the next movie night than keeping the company afloat. Enter freshly-fired asshole businessman Jim Balsillie (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton – excellent here), who is awful at electronics but knows how to manipulate people. He sees the immense potential of Mike’s smartphone idea. He also sees how socially inept Mike is as a person. He weasels his way into a co-CEO position alongside Mike, with the promise he can schmooze the right people. From there, the movie manages to tell an age-old tale of how greed poisons ambition while being funny in the process.
Much of Blackberry plays like Succession-light, with endless handheld-cam scenes of people yelling at each other over a phone, traveling by plane or car, and yelling at each other over a phone while traveling by plane or car. The assholes in this aren’t nearly as detestable as those on the HBO hit; still, there’s a certain charm to a couple of buttholes from Waterloo acting like Jobs and Zuckerberg. The film drops a few delightful guest performances from Cary Elwes‘ (The Princess Bride) smarmy Palm Pilot CEO to Michael Ironside‘s (Total Recall, Scanners) drill sergeant-esque COO for hire, all culminating in a story that’s entertaining and endearing from the first frame to the last filled with characters you find yourself exceptionally invested in. Grade: B+ (In Theaters)
It’s finally happened. I’ve seen the stupidest mainstream movie I’ve ever seen. No, not like Money Plane or Sia‘s Music kind of stupid. Those were little films without a guy-who-made-Transformers type of polish/budget. This is another type of stupid. Big-money-stupid. Fast and the Furious-stupid but even stupider, with negative-dimensional characters that don’t speak but merely say words, and action sequences so banal and bland you could fall asleep them. How can I ever write a serious review of this movie? I can’t. Bear with me as I dumb down my writing/speech to compliment this remedial-ass movie.
Ambulance tells the story(?) of a struggling main guy (Candyman and Watchmen‘s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) whose wife can’t afford a life-saving operation. The evil hospital men will let her die unless he can come up a kajillion trillion matillion dollars. Or is it his infant son? I can’t remember. Neither character, the wife or the son, has a single line. Luckily, he has a wealthy adopted brother (Jake Gyllenhaal – Maggie‘s brother IRL). Unfortunately, that wealth comes from crime, so he has to rob a bank to earn money for his wife’s life-saving operation. Struggling Main Guy doesn’t want to do it, but he sees all the sports cars in Wealthy Adopted Brother’s garage, so he must know what he’s talking about. The two adopted brothers reminisce about growing up while being of different races, and then they start robbing a bank. It’s a disaster, and people get shot; a cop stops by the bank to sexually harass a young bank teller and gets shot by Struggling Main Guy. This means they must go because they shot someone, and the cops are here now.
Their getaway driver accidentally ran over a dude and flattened his legs like a pancake. Michael Bay actually shows this guy lifting up his flattened legs like a scene straight out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? THEY SHOW THE GUY’S CARTOON LEGS!! While he’s like, “Oh, Brother, my goddamn legs!” Anyway, they have to find a new ride, so they hijack an ambulance inhabited by “the best paramedic in town.” That’s a direct line that multiple people say as if Los Angeles is just some small town? WHAT?! She’s the best paramedic in all of Los Angeles? She’s played by an actress named Eliza Gonzalez who is in many car movies – Hobbs & Shaw, Baby Driver, okay just two. She’s also listed as being in the movie From Dusk till Dawn, which is weird cause she was born only six years before that movie. I don’t remember any kid characters in that; maybe she was one of the strippers?
So the rest of the movie is a high-speed chase between the ambulance and different small-town Los Angeles cops. One of the cops is played by severely underrated character actor Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood, The Last House on the Left, Raising Hope). He has a giant dog and a tiny car which serve as one of the best visual gags Bay can develop. LOL, that dog is so big in that little car. Hahahhaa. Why doesn’t he get a bigger car or a smaller dog? Also, why does he bring his dog to a high-speed pursuit? First, it’s grocery stores people are bringing their dogs to, then restaurants, and now it’s high-speed pursuits?? I’ll watch your dog while you go out, just call me.
By this point, it felt like the movie was over, but it was only an hour and fifteen minutes in! We still had a full hour to go! I think this is where Bay realized he needed the audience to root for Struggling Main Guy in order for them to be invested in the movie as a whole, but in those opening 75 minutes, he did nothing to make Struggling Main Guy likable. We learned so little about this guy, and we also learned so little about Wealthy Adopted Brother, but he was the villain, so it was less important. This is the point in the story that should just be mindless action on cruise control, but it’s desperately trying to make up for lost time in developing its characters. It’s a fucking mess, this whole movie is a mess, and the ending is so stupid and illogical it’s just about perfect for what preceded it.
You may have taken from my review that this is recommended only to be viewed as a freak show. A sideshow attraction pantsing a filmmaker who so obviously doesn’t give a fuck. It really isn’t even that though. Ten good laughs in this movie account for only five minutes of the film’s 135-minute runtime. There’s too much banal filler in this to recommend, especially when far more entertaining action pictures have made their way to streaming in the past couple of months. Ambulance is a chore to get through, and it really underlines how dumb and cynical mainstream movies have become. It depressed me more than anything. Grade: D+ (Amazon Prime)
ALSO STREAMING & IN THEATERS
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Super Mario Bros. (also VOD)
Evil Dead Rise (also VOD)
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret
John Wick 4 (also VOD)
All Quiet on the Western Front
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
MAX (formerly HBOMax)
Only Murders in the Building Season 2
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Everything Everywhere All at Once