Can we all agree to accept and appreciate "Fast and Furious" movies as the adrenaline-rush cartoons that they are?
Even though the series undoubtedly hit its high point in "Furious 7," with its resonant film-ending tribute to the late Paul Walker, "Fate of the Furious" shows there is not only plenty of gas left in the tank, but the nitrous oxide turbo boosters are also blasting at full throttle.
Director F. Gary Gray kick-starts the movie with a virtuoso short film that could stand on its own, and may be the most exhilarating -- as well as one of the most ridiculous -- cinematic street race ever.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who has long since graduated from street racing king to a black-ops agent who saves the world on the regular, returns to his roots to challenge a thug to a mile-long race through heavy traffic. The ensuing cacophony of explosions, collisions, engine fires and smack-talking makes for an exquisite ballet of ludicrous one-upsmanship that escalates into a finale that is just as hilarious for its hyperextended fantasy of machismo as it is thrilling.
That opener sets the template for the thunder to come. Gray and his cast, which includes Dwayne Johnson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Tyrese Gibson and Jason Statham -- tiptoe the line between bombast and self-parody. There is a charming mid-film moment when Johnson and Statham -- playing rivals forced to work together who vow to tear each other's heads off after this is all over -- lock eyes and start cracking up at the absurdity of their ramped-up bickering.
The gang of engine-revving, invulnerable hero drivers work to stamp out the threat of the villainous Cipher (Theron), whose nefarious hacking skills match the improbable powers of those of the wheelmen. She coaxes Dominic to her side by showing him an image on a cell phone, pitting him against his makeshift family for a roller-coaster match of high-stakes bumper cars that take them from New York to Russia. Nuclear codes, submarines and glacier-rupturing torpedoes get involved, and there is no way to understand how or why without twisting your brain in knots.
Thinking too much always has and always will get you in trouble with these movies. Character motivations are "just because," and they survive a constant torrent of certain death because "of course they did."
That is the way of the fast and furious, who are also loud and ludicrous, and whose exploits remain brash and curious.
RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.