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Racer X

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 21, 2023 5:00 am

You never sit down to watch a Fast and Furious movie for philosophical inquiry, but one question comes up fairly quickly in Fast X, the first of a three-part finale to this long-running action franchise: What the hell is going on with Jason Momoa’s performance?

Momoa plays Dante, an evil mastermind who’s targeting and taunting Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), and he does it, well, pretty flamboyantly. He’s probably the most campy evil mastermind in recent film history, with his lavender nail polish (and matching 1966 Chevy Impala), a tendency towards ballet-like flourishes and a high-pitched laugh that would out-cackle The Joker. I mean, I’ve heard of playing it over the top, but with his bearlike body, pointed goatee and long flowing hair, he’s the Jack Black of evil masterminds. Just sayin’.

Nonetheless, he brings a lot of liveliness to this already action-packed Fast outing, which spins crazily from LA to Rome to London to Portugal to Rio to… maybe Antarctica, though even that location shoot was probably too much for the film’s reported $340 million budget.

Precious cargo: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) with his beloved 1970 Dodge Charger.

The gang’s back here, or most of them, and while I haven’t been keeping close tabs, it was surprising to see a CGI Paul Walker pop up in the opening scene alongside Diesel in a flashback to 10 years ago. (The ill-fated Walker has been “resurrected” through CGI involving his two brothers and a motion capture actor to take a final ride ‘n’ heist with Dom that kicks off the story.)

Dom is back in family mode, with a backyard barbecue and a lola played by Rita Moreno, a loving marriage to Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), plus the usual comic relief supplied by Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel and Sun Kang, but they soon find themselves caught up in a plot involving Dante trying to blow up the Vatican, plus Dom and all his extended family-buddies in the process.

This one goes up to 11: Jason Momoa plays Dante, a super-villain whose fingernail polish matches his Chevy Impala hood.

It’s part of creator Justin Lin’s genius to make this a “hang” franchise: this time it brings back Dom’s brother Jakob (John Cena), Charlize Theron’s previously evil Cipher, Jason Statham’s Shaw (can Hobbes be far behind?), plus Brie Larson as a rogue agent from Mr. Nobody’s outfit who opts to help Dom track down Dante and rescue his son Brian from peril.

The clear duality presented here is between Dom’s family-lovin’ values and Dante’s nihilistic resentment at Dom (and others) for inadvertently killing his dad, which leads to hate, which leads to pain and suffering, to paraphrase Yoda.

Mostly, Fast X is concerned with hopping the crew around in various cargo planes (the kind that can carry Dom’s Dodge Charger Daytona Banshee SRT in its hold for a drop somewhere), and there’s plenty of car porn here for fans, from Tesse’s 2023 Nissan Z to Cipher’s prototype Delorean, to a hot 2023 Hennessy Venom F5 Coupe, and a 2022 Pagani valued at $7 million. (We hasten to add that no actual expensive or vintage cars were harmed in the making of Fast X.)

An interesting wrinkle is that so many big-name female co-stars turn up for the franchise—from Oscar winners Theron and Brie to Daniela Melchior and Gal Gadot—but all they’re really allowed to do is shoot people and engage in martial arts c-c-c-catfights with one another (which, admittedly, is still entertaining), because the scope of the series means there’s no room to show a bunch of ladies sitting around making witty remarks and planning a mission as in, say, Ocean’s 8.

But if you like an eye-popping, brain-emptying visual feast, then Fast X still delivers. My sister-in-law, for one, is a huge fan of Diesel and, as she puts it, “all those big-muscled, small-eyed actors” like Channing Tatum and Keanu Reeves, who provide lots of heart, big guns, and not too much onscreen thinking.

‘Cuz it’s an ACTION movie, so bring on the action! Louis Leterrier directs with the oversaturated post-production crackle and nitrous oxide-injected crunch that you expect from Fast movies and other franchises he’s done like the Transporter movies, Clash of the Titans and Now You See Me. (Lin reportedly parted as director of this entry due to creative differences over the script. Perhaps he will return for Part Deux?) 

You cannot knock a franchise that has made Lin possibly the most successful Chinese director/producer in history, and since Fast 9 raked in close to $1 billion, we expect this trilogy conclusion to at least add up to record box office.

Is Momoa’s Dante compelling enough of a menace to last until the finish line? He seems to relish playing a villain—even one smothered in extra relish. He certainly enjoys himself here more than Dom does. And his eyes aren’t even that small.