Fast & Furious 8 (3 stars)

Fast & Furious 8

Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson steal the show in a fitfully enjoyable sequel that also adds Charlize Theron to the mix

Fast & Furious 8 (released in the US as The Fate of the Furious) is the latest addition to a franchise that should, by rights, be running on fumes. Directed by the confusingly named F Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) with regular 'Fast' screenwriter Chris Morgan once again providing a reasonable line in bants whilst mangling the story side, it deserves kudos for adding Oscar-winner and bona fide bad-ass Charlize Theron to the mix, but remains a cut-and-shut of past 'glories'.

À la Spectre, the events of the last few films are tied together by the actions of a hitherto unidentified criminal, here cyber-terrorist Cipher (Theron, in ice queen mode). With Dom (Vin Diesel) mysteriously in her clutches, Cipher pits the rogue racer against his fellow petrolheads, including wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

Anyone attempting to engage with the narrative will find it an exercise in frustration. Both aggravatingly abbreviated and tediously elongated, it operates under a no-explanation-required policy. A crucial, impossible-seeming heist happens bafflingly off-screen with the film skipping to the resulting chase and, as ever, the gang are shown to have a broad and perplexing skill-set – Houdini-like escape abilities, Buffy-style quips and Mensa-grade minds. It's unashamedly assembled from that which has come before: death fake-outs, hilarious feats of strength from Dwayne Johnson's super-sized DSS agent Hobbs, car-based boasting that stops just short of actual dick measuring.

Fortunately Gray knows how to direct action. If the climactic shootout-on-ice goes boringly big then the old-school opener is on the money, a sequence set in New York which sees the 'auto drive' function of several hundred cars hacked fully exploits fears of technology, and a fun prison brawl is thrown in purely for the hell of it. There's a certain spirited shamelessness to a franchise that doesn't even kill its villains, just madly loads them up onto an already heaving cast – and it'd be churlish to complain when they are as good value as 'tea-and-crumpets criminal' Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Kurt Russell returns too as Mr Nobody and there's a weird cameo from Helen Mirren, channelling EastEnders legend Pat Butcher, in scenes that may have been a collective hallucination.

Unfortunately, as Dom encounters a variety of emotionally tumultuous scenarios, 'human doorstop' Diesel fails to summon anything beyond his trademark sullen squint. Events might revolve around his indestructible idiot but, like Fast 7, the film is effortlessly snatched away by two squabbling action stars who know how to raise a smile: Johnson and Statham. When Statham takes on a plane full of terrorists whilst carrying a baby, the effect is magical; a reminder that, at its best, this long-in-the-tooth series can make stupid and dangerous look slightly less stupid and cool.

General release from Wed 12 Apr.

Fast & Furious 8

Fast & Furious 8

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 2h 16min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: F. Gary Gray
  • Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren
  • UK release: 14 April 2017

Cyber-terrorist Cypher (Theron) pits rogue racer Dom (Diesel) against his fellow petrolheads, including wife Letty (Rodriguez). Baffling and inconsequential story aside, it’s all shamelessly about car-based action, and although human doorstop Diesel isn’t up to the story’s limited emotional demands, Johnson and Statham…