Monday, 23 September 2019

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw

Strangely, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw's best moments have little to do with either Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham. Although the couple's bickering helped prop up the series' first post-Paul Walker instalment, scaled up to power an entire film, the recriminations struggle to engage. Part of the problem is the lack of venom; the insults flying back-and-forth between Johnson and Statham just aren't mean enough. The jibes momentarily amuse but are, ultimately, forgettable. There's very little sense the two action stars are actually trying to upset each other or leave a permanent, brand altering read in the audience's mind. The Rock cuts his usual promos, telling you how great he is, while Statham babbles around, threatening to grumble his way towards the effing-and-jeffing seen in Spy. He never gets there.

Pinned up in a garage glimpsed towards the end of Hobbs & Shaw is the poster for Walter Hill's 48 Hrs, the high water mark for squabbling, buddy-buddy action films. I have no idea why you'd invite such a withering comparison. Neither star is as funny as Nick Nolte, never mind Eddie Murphy. Mechanically, Hobbs & Shaw reaches for comedy as a salve, a way to force scenes through the exposition and down-time notes that basic plotting requires they hit. Since the two top-billed stars are to be protected from real, lingering abuse, ringers are drafted to soak up the punishment. Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds are parachuted in to churn through their usual shtick; here interpreted as creepy hero worship of The Rock and his throbbing musculature.

These massive, punishing cameos recall the distended bloat felt in Sammo Hung's 1980s action comedies, proving once again that Hong Kong was way ahead of the curve when it came to populist garbage. What the film does have though are Vanessa Kirby as Statham's little SIS Hattie and Idris Elba as a fascist, cyborg Superman named Brixton Lore. Hattie is relentlessly imperilled, pumped full of the apocalypse drugs that every party is champing at the bit for. Happily, the character isn't then relegated to a passive possession to be fought over. In terms of genuine physicality, Hattie is actually the highlight. Kirby and her stunt doubles Lucy Cork, Elizabeth Donker Curtius and Laura Swift combine to deliver a tucked, tumbling performance that peaks with a delirious skip across shipping containers while a Soviet era power station collapses around everyone's ears.

As well as the usual swaggering machismo from the permanently brilliant Elba, the actor also provides a focus point in the film's most impossible special effects sequences. Brixton, working for tech-focused doomsday preppers, is the human component for a mutating murdercycle that can twist and turn around Lore's body, squeezing the augmented man through a variety of shrinking, otherwise calamitous, gaps. Although completely out of place in a franchise about drag racing, Corona chugging chodes, Brixton and his super-duper-bike do neatly combine the incomparable opening credits of TV's Street Hawk with the piloted mech aesthetic that birthed, and later bled into, the Transformers toyline. Since Hasbro's film series is still actively avoiding this kind of biomechanical symbioses, Hobbs & Shaw's human missile will have to do.

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