After dredging through the slew of barely existent blockbusters that have come and gone this year, it seemed that Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw would be the antidote to one of the worst summer movie slates in recent memory. Months of trailers promising Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw finally pushing the beloved The Fast and the Furious franchise over the limits of absurdity. Promises like candy for moviegoers desperately searching for any signs of blockbuster life. Throw in the bonus charms of rising star Vanessa Kirby and Idris Elba as a cocky, super-powered villain and it appears the film has everything it needs to cement itself as an over-the-top popcorn classic.
Turns out that Hobbs & Shaw is, in fact, anything but the lean and mean action spectacle it appeared to be, sputtering as a pale imitation of its predecessors that frequently postures about how cool it is without ever actually being all that cool. A downright criminal script from longtime series scribe Chris Morgan and Hotel Artemis director Drew Pearce fails to double down on the kind of kooky action that could have sent this thing into the stratosphere, opting instead for an ego-driven dick swinging contest that sees Johnson and Statham spending more time insulting each other’s balls than kicking ass. This is the Barstool Sports of summer action movies.
When peeking under the hood of this mindbogglingly boring and generic spin-off, there are an array of potential offenders to blame for its engine failure. Maybe David Leitch is the problem. Leitch is a former stunt coordinator who has quickly made a name for himself as one of the industry’s most sought after action directors, kickstarting his directing career with an uncredited turn as the co-director of John Wick before moving on to the thrilling, often underrated Atomic Blonde and later the Deadpool franchise. He’s more than capable when it comes to staging scrappy, exciting set-pieces but as the budget balloons, his imagination tends to go out the window.
The action here is no exception, as the film’s colossal scope corners Leitch into constructing increasingly repetitive, often ugly bits of CGI mayhem that do little to liven up the dead weight in-between the film’s climactic moments. There are a few sparks of life here and there, most of them coming in the film’s Samoa-set climax that sees Johnson’s Hobbs returning home for a bit of good-old-fashioned Fast-style action that peaks with four tow trucks chain-ganging to take down a helicopter. But even that final act has its visual problems; a large-scale fistfight at dawn is near impossible to see (it’s noticeably brightened up in the trailers) and the final showdown with Elba is speed-ramped to death, turning what could a two-minute fight into an agonizingly long test of patience.
Or are Johnson and Statham are themselves to blame? It’s clear from the get-go that Morgan and Pearce have underestimated how much chemistry the pair have, with the film’s Odd Couple gimmick running out of steam long before the credits roll. Statham is perfectly fine, dutifully reading his thankless lines with the straightforward cockney swagger that’s to be expected of him. Johnson, on the other hand, is noticeably uncomfortable whether he’s stumbling through gags or imparting life lessons about family (yes, this is still very much a Fast movie). He’s best when he’s allowed to strip back his persona as the world’s largest man, using his goofy charm to subvert the machismo that he’s come to represent.
The script isn’t smart enough to cash in on that potential, instead of relying on its annoying insistence that his muscles must be worshiped every two seconds. It jams Johnson into a bland performance that lacks much of the charisma that’s made him a superstar. Even the film’s overlong sequences of him and Statham trying to one-up each other do little to breathe life into his role. Ultimately this is a film that relies on its star duo cracking jokes, but little of the humor is worthy of more than a chorus of crickets. Throw in some obnoxious, self-aggrandizing cameos and the comedy wanders into the unbearable territory.
Perhaps it’s Morgan and Pearce wasting the talents of Kirby and Elba, who both do their best with underwritten, stock character roles. The promise of Elba as a “Black Superman” feels plucked from another world entirely, and the script is never inspired enough to milk the genre dissonance enough to reach absurd levels. Elba’s cyber-enhanced mercenary is little more than a juiced-up henchman who gets the privilege of delivering a few monologues. He’s too much of a professional to phone it in, but there’s little here for Elba to chew on. Kirby is the only actor who exudes any sense of real energy, bringing a badass charm to a role that’s more of a damsel-in-distress trope than the script cares to admit. Despite the character’s poor development, Kirby manages to make her super-spy assassin fun anyway, building off her excellent supporting turn in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout to cement herself as a stellar actress more than worthy of her own bare-knuckled franchise. It’s a pity that the script doesn’t give her more to do.
Noticing a trend here? All of the film’s pratfalls boil down to Morgan and Pearce’s embarrassing script, proof that even Hollywood’s most intentionally dumb tentpoles need solid writing to hold up. It’s the kind of screenwriting that bogs down everyone involved; Leitch is let down by its uninspired structure and the actors are trapped by its lame pandering to bro sensibilities. The end result is an overlong slog that squanders its exciting potential in the name of a deeply misguided sense of humor that does nothing but leave this spin-off stalling out at the starting line. One can only hope the inevitable sequel will know how to kick this potentially great side-franchise back into gear.
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