This summer, star Vin Diesel has tossed the keys to his action superstar co-stars, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, for their spinoff, the cumbersomely titled “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” What’s ironic, and somewhat fitting, is the entire vehicle is stolen by their co-stars, the devastatingly charismatic Vanessa Kirby and Idris Elba.
In true “Fast and the Furious” never-let-logic-get-in-the-way-of-a-good-story fashion, former U.S. federal agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and former mercenary/criminal/murderer Deckard Shaw (Statham), are recruited by the government to track down a tiny, world-ending thingamabob that they will retrieve through a series of vehicular feats performed in various far-flung spots around the globe.
They have a very particular set of skills: Hobbs is very good at punching, while Shaw can navigate a McLaren around hairpin turns at high speeds like no one else.
They’re clearly the only ones cut out to track down a virus that threatens mankind’s existence, wrestled over by a comely MI6 agent, Hattie Shaw (Kirby), Deckard’s sister, and a tech-enhanced super soldier, Brixton Lore (Elba), working for a shadowy group with Thanos-like plans for the virus.
They believe in a “human evolution” that sounds a lot like machine-assisted eugenics, and Brixton is their finest example.
“Hobbs & Shaw” is built around the acid-tongued rivalry of the titular characters, and the script by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce (the seventh time they’ve teamed up for an “F&F”) gives Johnson and Statham plenty of time to talk smack as they ruthlessly rib each other from London to Moscow to Samoa, on planes, semitrucks and automobiles.
Johnson possesses a kind of radioactively powerful charm, and Statham’s sinister Cockney growl never fails.
Which is why it’s absolutely shocking to watch Kirby and Elba steal the film right from under their noses. Kirby performs some of the film’s best combat stunts. And it’s difficult to put into words the sheer power of Elba outfitted head to toe in high-tech motorcycle leathers. If there were one way to magnify his magnetism, this is it.
It’s hard to deny the sheer entertainment value of Johnson and Statham and Kirby and Elba (and in a pair of really fun cameos, Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart), but “Hobbs & Shaw” is an act or two too long.
And while director David Leitch, a former stuntman who directed “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde,” cooks up some truly breathtaking action sequences and stunts, other moments lose their crisp clarity.
The script stretches all sense of time and place. And while it tests the suspension of disbelief, especially with regard to the virus-borne ticking clock they’re battling, it also harks back to the most important theme of the franchise.
Despite appearances, that theme is not airborne gas-guzzlers; it’s family. A trip to Samoa gives Hobbs (and, by extension, Johnson) a chance to connect with his roots and to drive home the message that people are more important than technology.
Because, after all, “Fast and the Furious” has always been about kicking it old school.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
★★½ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence, suggestive material and profanity.