HOBBS AND SHAW is, occasionally, as clever as it thinks it is. Fueled by that cocksure attitude, a healthy dose of ironic self-awareness, and the undeniable star power of its three eye-candy leads, this spin-off from the Fast and Furious franchise is a pleasant enough diversion.
The plot is strictly a perfunctory exercise involving a virus that, if it falls into the wrong hands, will end humankind. Naturally, the only people who can save the day are Decker Shaw (Jason Statham) and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Further naturally, they hate each other. If you don’t know going in who these guys are, or why they hate other, don’t worry, there is an expositional recap by way of the banter in which the two ceaselessly engage between bouts of mayhem and violence. Fun mayhem and violence, which is to say, things explode, catch fire, fly through the air, and otherwise devolve into their constituent parts but there’s nothing too graphic blood- and gore-wise.
Still bantering, the frenemies confront the villain of the piece, cyborg-ish Brixton (Idris Elba), with whom one of them has a history. We know that Brixton is the bad guy because in the opening sequence, he zooms in on motorcycle, wearing fetching black leathers, and announces as much when the heavily armed British Black Ops agents he confronts ask him. He then demolishes all six of them and, for good measure, punches a heavily armored truck. And dents it. Significantly.
Along the way we have a mysterious secret organization that wants to make the world a better place by weeding out the weak, and a mysterious blue-eyed Valkyrie (Vanessa Kirby) with aggressive eyebrows and an ingenious way of removing herself from sticky situations. That would include the one with Brixton, and later Hobbs. Mostly, though, we have a flick where plate glass exists to be shattered during fights, mousy scientists wield flame-throwers, and long-haul trucks lumber through downtown London in order for people in cars and motorcycles to engage in fancy stunt work. Those ubiquitous stunts are mostly fast, but not quite furious as they rewrite the laws of physics. The exception being a fight between a series of souped-up pick-up trucks and a helicopter that has novelty going for it, as well as Johnson straining manfully as he tries to keep the helicopter in tow using only a stout chain and his even stouter sinews. Only Johnson could make that work.
What doesn’t work is a wallow in posturing sentiment as Hobbs and Shaw prepare for the inevitable final showdown with Brixton in Hobb’s home in Samoa, nor does the endless speechifying that happens when the sensible thing to do would be to pull a trigger. The quality of that ci-mentioned bantering varies wildly, dipping all too often into self-indulgence that isn’t helped by Johnson and Statham’s mugging in an effort to make it pay off. The relationship between Hobbs and his nine-year-old daughter (Eliana Sua) also varies wildly, being at its best when bobbing along with the de rigeur flummoxed father coping with a precocious child before the inevitable saccharine kicks in. On the plus side, there are delightful cameos by Helen Mirren as Shaw’s sketchy mother, Ryan Reynolds as the CIA agent with a man-crush on Hobbs, and quondam Johnson co-star Kevin Hart as an air marshal desperate to switch careers.
Ridiculous but somehow endearing despite its flaws, it’s directed with style and economy by David Leitch. The single greatest virtue of FAST AND FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW is that it stays within its mission statement of being a breezy action flick tailor made for its stars, and prepares us for the sequel. I can only hope the traditional Samoan battle clubs make a return appearance. Buckle up.