PLOT A former car thief is forced back into a life of crime by a mysterious woman.
CAST Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Dwayne Johnson
RATED PG-13 (violence and language)
BOTTOM LINE Another spectacular entry in a dependably entertaining franchise.
In the race among Hollywood’s action franchises, the car to beat is “The Fast and the Furious.” Granted, the Bond movies are still top of class thanks to their Euro-chic style, while “Mission: Impossible” continues to pack the star power of Tom Cruise. Let’s be honest, though: When it comes to fun, fun, fun, these silly hot-rod movies are unrivaled.
It hardly matters that movie No. 8, “The Fate of the Furious,” doesn’t offer much new or different. Having struck an unexpectedly emotional note in 2015’s “Furious 7,” which bid adieu to the late Paul Walker, this entry goes for bigger, louder, wilder. It can already claim to be one of the first major movies filmed in post-thaw Cuba — the latest addition to this franchise’s long list of ultracool shooting locales (Rio, Miami, Tokyo). Cuba’s stone-lined streets and Cold War-era automobiles provide a colorful backdrop for a meeting between our hero, street racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), and a new villain named Cipher (Charlize Theron). She’s a brilliant cyberterrorist, but she uses old-fashioned blackmail to force Dom to do her dirty work. No spoilers, but Cipher holds Dom’s most treasured possession — and it isn’t his Dodge Charger.
What follows is, to be sure, not the most ingenious plot. As Cipher and a reluctant Dom go about hacking surveillance systems and stealing nuclear codes, it’s clear writer Chris Morgan is borrowing from his past scripts. Again, it doesn’t matter. There’s just too much else here to enjoy: Diesel’s macho charisma; the snarling banter between federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham); the return of Kurt Russell as the jocular black-ops mastermind Mr. Nobody; his new sidekick, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood); and a couple of guest stars best kept secret. If anything, Diesel’s regular castmates — Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges — seem slightly sidelined.
Theron, who’s on a hot action streak these days (from the Oscar-winning “Mad Max: Fury Road” to the upcoming “Atomic Blonde”), makes a delicious villain, combining icy superiority and a calculated sexuality. Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) knows, however, that the real star here is sheer spectacle. Among his best moments are an elaborate heist using an army of self-driving sedans, and a car chase that somehow incorporates a nuclear submarine. You’d expect nothing less from this souped-up franchise. In terms of delivering nonstop entertainment, these movies are as reliable as an old Datsun.
4 franchises ending at 8
The Fate of the Furious” is the eighth installment in the film franchise about street racers that shows no signs of slowing down. For these other movie series, eight was enough.
FRANKENSTEIN — Universal had a monster hit in 1931 with “Frankenstein,” starring Boris Karloff. The movie was so big, it led to seven “Frankenstein” sequels for the studio from “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) to “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948).
THE WHISTLER — This B (plus) movie series produced by Columbia between 1944 and 1948 was based on a popular radio mystery program that began with the sound of footsteps and a stranger whistling. The “Whistler” series was also notable for showcasing the early work of William Castle, who directed four of the eight films.
HALLOWEEN — John Carpenter’s 1978 creepfest about psycho killer Michael Myers not only launched a venerable horror franchise that ran through 2002, but also the career of Jamie Lee Curtis. The first two films were remade in 2007 and 2009.
HARRY POTTER — From 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to the 2011 movie “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” moviegoers got to see Harry and his Hogwarts pals grow from wunderkinds to full-grown wizards.
— DANIEL BUBBEO