REVIEW / ACTION THRILLER
FAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAW (PG13)
136 minutes/Opens today/ 2.5 stars
The story: Some years after The Fate Of The Furious (2017), Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is home in London when he finds that his sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent, has become the target of a technologically enhanced assassin, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), and his army of terrorists. Federal security agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is sent to England to assist Shaw and the two men have to bury the hatchet to capture Brixton.
The successful Fast And Furious franchise has its first spin-off and the baby has everything that audiences like about its parents: car porn, a comic-book approach to stories and massive vehicular action setpieces.
It also has features that viewers like a lot less, such as the evangelical way in which family unity is spoken about and the way a teenager writes about love as if he were the first person to feel the emotion.
There is also an awkwardness here in dealing with sexual attraction, one that stems from not knowing what living, breathing women want.
That last point is a problem that plagues much of action-movie screenwriting. Hattie, for example, could easily become a Harold without changing much of the writing.
She is a woman only in the sense that there is sexual tension between her and another character, but even that aspect of the story carries an uncomfortably juvenile vibe.
Humour is milked from how Shaw behaves like a suburban father making growling sounds at a boy taking his daughter out on a date.
Stunt expert-turned-director David Leitch (the Marvel superhero movie Deadpool 2, 2008; the excellent spy thriller and comic-book adaptation Atomic Blonde, 2017, starring Fast And Furious alumnus Charlize Theron) does what he can with an overstretched, multi-location story that flits from London to Yorkshire to the Pacific Islands.
Usually a director who favours compact and brutally realistic fights and crashes, he is under duress here to conform to the Fast template - a road movie in pursuit of, or being chased by, a villain, with action that has only a passing relationship with the laws of physics.
Helen Mirren plays Shaw's jailbird mother, her accent dropping several social classes to match Statham's. Her sense of fun is infectious, as is the glowering intensity of Elba's villainous cyber-soldier Brixton.
Everything else, however, sinks under the weight of cloying family moments featuring Johnson's character's daughter. There are also his speeches about the sanctity of family.
Somehow, Hobbs feels qualified to speak on the topic in spite of how, through an act of betrayal, he has been estranged from his clan for years. Some call it confidence; others, self-delusion.