Review: ‘F9,’ starring Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel and Jordana Brewster

June 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel in “F9” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“F9”

Directed by Justin Lin

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Azerbaijan and the nation of Georgia, the action flick “F9” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy in law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A daredevil team tries to save the world from a group of criminals that includes an assassin who is the estranged brother of the daredevil leader. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to fans of the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise, “F9” (the ninth movie in the series) will appeal primarily to people who want to a predictable action flick with high-budget stunts and low-quality screenwriting.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Vin Diesel, Thue Ersted Rasmussen and John Cena in “F9” (Photo courtesy of Unviersal Pictures)

At this point, movies in the “Fast” movie franchise (which began with 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious”) are no longer rooted in reality and have become over-the-top spectacles for people who want to shut their brains off for a couple of hours while they watch. And that’s okay, if there’s a coherent plot and the stunts are truly creative. But “F9” (the ninth film in the series) is an example of a sequel that’s too bloated, too self-satisfied and too lazy. This movie needed less stunt casting and more impressive stunts that don’t insult people’s intelligence.

Directed by Justin Lin (who co-wrote the abysmal “F9” screenplay with Daniel Casey), “F9” is best described as a live-action movie written and directed like a sloppy cartoon for people with no attention span and no expectations to see an intriguing thriller beyond predictable chase scenes, shootouts and explosions. It’s another “we have to save the world from a power-hungry villain” story, but there’s no real creativity or suspense in this overstuffed, 145-minute movie that tries to distract viewers from the weak plot by zipping around the world to different locations. Too bad with all that globetrotting in search of the villain, the “F9” team couldn’t find anything resembling a suspenseful story, because almost every twist and turn can be easily predicted.

The main characters in the “Fast” saga have become so egotistical and conceited that there are multiple times in the movie where they wonder out loud to each other if their death-defying luck might be because they aren’t mere mortals but might in fact have superpowers. “F9” is not a superhero movie, although it would be a better explanation for some of the ridiculous outcomes of battles where real human beings would die, but these “heroes” just get injuries that are never fatal and they recover in ways that are too quick to believe.

And this wouldn’t be a “Fast” movie without constant use of the word “family.” It can become a drinking game to take a drink every time the word “family” is said in a “Fast” movie. This time around, “F9” is especially enamored with adding more people to the “family,” with some unnecessary stunt casting that looks very out of place. If “F9” is the first movie that people see in the “Fast” series, they might be a little confused, because the movie assumes that viewers will already know a lot of the characters’ backstories. It’s best to watch 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” because most of the main characters in that movie are in “F9.”

Here’s a handy summary of who’s in the movie and how their screen time is used in “F9.”

The Heroes

  • Dominic “Dom” Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) is the leader of the daredevil crew that started out as outlaw drag racers and now have vague duties a security/spy team hired to help out government officials and elite business people who are targets of villains who want to take over the world. Vinnie Bennett portrays a young Dom in the movie’s several flashbacks to when Dom was in his late teens.
  • Letty Ortiz (played by Michelle Rodriguez) is Dom’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. In “F9,” Dom and Letty are happily living together with Dom’s son Brian, who’s about 4 or 5 years old in this movie. Brian’s mother Elena Neves (played by Elsa Pataky) was a Diplomatic Security Service agent who died in “The Fate of the Furious.”
  • Mia Toretto (played by Jordana Brewster) is Dom’s loyal younger sister who goes along with whatever Dom wants. Mia is the love partner of Dom’s best friend Brian O’Conner (played by Paul Walker), who is the father of their son Jack. Walker died in real life in 2013, but Brian is supposed to be happily retired.
  • Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) is a nervous and talkative member of Dom’s team. The running joke with Roman is that he’s always anxious about getting into dangerous situtations. Expect Roman to scream at least twice in every “Fast” movie.
  • Tej Parker (played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is Roman’s level-headed best friend who has skills as a mechanic and a computer technician.
  • Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) is a British computer hacker who has essentially taken over from Tej as being the “computer whiz” on Dom’s team.
  • Han Lue (played by Sung Kang) supposedly died in 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6,” but he makes a notable but brief return in “F9.” Han’s return is not spoiler information, since it’s part of this movie’s publicity, and his re-appearance has this explanation: He faked his own death.

The Villains

  • Otto (played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen), a wealthy German mogul with vast political connections who wants to take over the world.
  • Jakob Toretto (played by John Cena), Dom’s estranged younger brother, who works with Otto as Otto’s top assassin. Finn Cole portrays a young Jakob in his late teens in the movie’s flashback scenes.
  • Cypher (played by Charlize Theron), a cyberterrorist who was the chief villain in “The Fate of the Furious.” In “F9,” she spends most of her screen time literally locked up in a glass cage.

The Rest

  • Sean (played by Lucas Black), Twinkie (played by Shad Moss, also known as Bow Wow) and Santos (played by Don Omar) are three mechanics who are in the movie mostly for comic relief. They’re like the Three Stooges of the “Fast” movie franchise.
  • Mr. Nobody (played by Kurt Russell) is a powerful undercover operative who works with Dom’s team. A plane hijacking involving Mr. Nobody sets off the rescue mission in the movie.
  • Elle (played by Anna Sawai) is an associate of Han’s who plays a key role in this mission.
  • Stasiak (played by Shea Whigham) is an FBI agent who works with Mr. Nobody.
  • Buddy (played by Michael Rooker) is a mechanic who raised Jakob after Jakob’s father died.
  • Queenie Shaw (played by Helen Mirren) is the mother of Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), a longtime nemesis of Dom’s team.

Through a distress video found in Mr. Nobody’s hijacked plane, Dom and his team find out that Jakob was one of the chief people behind the hijacking. Otto and Jakob are after a device called Aries, which has the ability to hack into defense and banking systems around the world. It’s the type of device that any self-respecting villain with world domination goals would want to have.

Aries has been split into two. Jakob and Otto have one half of Aries, and they’re in a race against time with Dom and his team to get the other half of Aries. Cypher is being held captive by Otto and Jakob, who try to get her advice on how to find Aries and thwart Dom and his team. The stakes are more personal for Dom and Jakob because of their family feud.

The origin of this brotherly vendetta is shown through flashbacks. It has to do with the death of Dom and Jakob’s father Jack Toretto (played by JD Pardo), who died during a car race witnessed by Dom and Jakob. Siena Agudong plays a young Mia in these flashbacks.

Various parts of Dom’s team travel to different parts of the world to find the missing half of Aries. Cardi B has a very quick cameo as Leysa, someone from Dom’s past. People might laugh when they see what type of role she has in this movie. (No, she isn’t a stripper.) Along the way, Roman and Tej go into space using a rocket car that was built by Sean, Twinkie and Santos. Now, try say all of that out loud with a straight face.

The Pontiac Fiero that goes into space (by having a cheap-looking rocket launcher attached) is the most ridiculous part of this movie’s dumb plot. But to the movie’s credit, “F9” even knows how stupid this space rocket car gimmick is, because Roman and Tej keep saying while they’re in outer space that they have no idea what they’re doing there. In real life, Roman and Tej would also be dead in space, based on the flimsy-looking spacesuits they wear in this movie. But when a movie is self-aware of how idiotic it is, it doesn’t make the idiocy any better.

There are many examples of how “F9” is wasteful, including how it squanders the great talent of Oscar-winning actresses Mirren and Theron. Mirren’s Queenie character (who is a jewel thief) literally does nothing in the movie but drive Dom somewhere after she’s committed a jewelry heist. The movie makes a point of showing how Queenie is wearing animal print boots underneath her elegant gown and high-priced jewelry. Mirren might as well have been wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m Just Here for the Paycheck.”

Theron spends most of her “F9” screen time as a prisoner in a glass cage, which is the type of cage that people have for large animals. And speaking of sexist depictions of women, the movie has a mansion party scene where only modelesque, scantily clad women wearing white are gathered on the front lawn, as if they’re only there to be sex objects on display. “F9” villain Otto is the host of the party, so “F9” filmmakers can shift the blame to the evil character being responsible for objectifying women. But it just comes across as director Lin deciding to objectify women in this scene just because he could.

Of course, Letty, Mia and Ramsey all embody what it means to be good and strong women. But make no mistake: The men are in charge in these movies. No matter how much Letty, Mia and Ramsey are given to do, all three women are ultimately under Dom’s leadership. So much for female empowerment.

“F9” is one of the worst of the “Fast” franchise because even the chief villain Otto is forgettable and badly written. He comes across as a spoiled wimp, with the wardrobe of a dorky playboy, including wearing tacky leisure suits with loafers and no socks. There’s absolutely nothing scary about Otto. However, look for Statham’s Shaw character to make a mid-credits cameo in “F9.” Statham’s appearance is a reminder of how much better this movie series is when it has a truly menacing villain.

As for Jakob, he’s all brawn and very little brain, just like many characters Cena tends to play in action movies. The flashback scenes take up a lot of time and some could easily have been cut out of the film and still made their point. Diesel continues to display wooden acting. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. The movie’s flashbacks serve as the emotional core of the over-used theme in “Fast” movies: family.

And the return of Han doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie. The not-very-believable explanation for Han’s “return from the dead” is so cringeworthy, even actor Kang seems a little embarrassed to utter the lines. You’d have to believe that Han (who supposedly died in a car explosion) had a similar-looking replacement corpse nearby before the car exploded, and that he was not only able to jump out of the car in time but also put another corpse in the car instead. You’d also have to believe that a medical examiner wouldn’t be able to detect through DNA or dental records that Han’s body wasn’t the body that was found in the car.

With all that being said, die-hard fans won’t care how bad “F9” is because they just want to see fight scenes, car chases and explosions. And in that respect, “F9” does deliver, but not as well as previous “Fast” films that Lim directed. He also directed 2006’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” 2009’s “Fast & Furious,” 2011’s “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6.” Those other four movies have something that “F9” severely lacks: a story with some genuine and unique surprises, not coasting entirely on past glories.

Universal Pictures released “F9” in U.S. cinemas on June 25, 2021. The movie was released in various other countries, beginning on June 19, 2021.

Review: ‘The Ride’ (2020), starring Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Shane Graham and Sasha Alexander

February 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shane Graham and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in “The Ride” (Photo courtesy of WSO Film Group/Roadside Attractions)

“The Ride” (2020) 

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo

Culture Representation: Taking place in Northern California and other parts of the U.S., the dramatic film “The Ride” (which is based on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A juvenile delinquent, who was taught to be a white supremacist, is fostered and then adopted by an interracial couple, and he learns that he has a talent for BMX racing.

Culture Audience: “The Ride” will appeal primarily to people interested in real-life stories of redemption, even if it’s told in a very predictable and formulaic way.

Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Sasha Alexander in “The Ride” (Photo courtesy of WSO Film Group/Roadside Attractions)

“The Ride” is a biographical dramatic film that sticks to a certain formula that movies tend to have when they’re about people who’ve been able to overcome a troubled past to achieve some greatness. Based on the true story of professional BMX rider John Buultjens (formerly known as John McCord), “The Ride” takes a while to get to the heart of the story, it soars when it shows John’s transformation, and then it becomes a conventional sports competition by the end of the film. Despite having a lot of expected tropes, the cast members’ performances are appealing enough to make this movie worth checking out if people are looking for an inspirational and uplifting story.

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo, “The Ride” begins in Northern California, where most of the story takes place. John McCord (played by Alexander Davis) is only 9 years old, but he’s already living like an adult hoodlum. He and his friends have been recruited by a local white supremacist gang to commit crimes. The opening scene shows John and three other boys beating up a hospital security guard (played by Dorian Lockett) and stealing bottles of pills. But that’s not enough for these delinquents. They also brand the guard, who is African American.

John is caught and put in a juvenile detention center, where he kicks his cellmate Jose (played by Mario Gianni Herrera) just because Jose is Latino. And then, in a classroom at the detention center, three African American boys find out that John has a swastika tattooed on his neck, so the boys attack John. These scenes obviously show that a lot of John’s problems have to do with his racist beliefs.

Why did he turn out this way? John’s two older brothers Rory McCord (played by Richard Davis as a 14-year-old and Blake Sheldon as an adult) and Ewan McCord (played by the real-life John Buultjens) are both in the white supremacist gang which has become their surrogate family. John has an absentee father, while John’s mother Maggie McCord (played by Christina Moore) is a drug addict who’s been in and out of prison.

Maggie considers John to be a nuisance and refuses his pleas to let him live with her when he gets out of juvenile detention. While John is incarcerated, Maggie ends up dying from a drug-induced heart attack, essentially leaving John and his brothers as orphans. Seven years after being imprisoned, John (played by Shane Graham) is finally let out when he’s 16 years old, but he’s a very emotionally damaged person.

As a ward of the state, John is put in the foster care system. And the foster home he’s sent to live in is a nightmare for a white supremacist: Eldridge Buultjens (played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Marianna Buultjens (played by Sasha Alexander) are an interracial married couple. Eldridge is African American, and Marianna is white. They’ve had no luck in trying to start a biological family, so they’ve decided to try foster parenting instead.

When John is taken to Eldridge and Marianna’s upper-middle-class home for the first time, he immediately assumes that Eldridge must be a rapper or athlete to be able to afford this house. John is surprised to learn that Eldridge, who’s originally from Kentucky, has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Eldridge and Marianna met when they were grad students at the University of California at Berkeley. She has a master’s degree in linguistics.

Marianna and Eldridge know about John’s upbringing as a white supremacist, but they wanted to foster him anyway. When John asks them why they chose him, Eldridge says that Marianna felt that their family wouldn’t feel complete without a child. Of course, John’s bigoted beliefs cause problems in his difficulty adjusting to his new home.

There are the expected scenes of him being rude and uncooperative. And he constantly spouts racist assumptions. For example, during his first dinner with Eldridge and Marianna in their home, John assumes that he’s going to be served collard greens, which is a traditional African American meal.

John is enrolled in El Dorado High School shortly after the school year has begun. But he’s a misfit in the school, where cliques have already been formed. On his first day of school, John sees some BMX riders outside who are fellow students. One of them makes fun of John because of the shoes that John is wearing.

After school lets out for the day, the bully and his friends find the wheels removed from their BMX bikes that were parked outside. John is immediately accused of this vandalism. Police go to the Buultjens house to question John, but no arrest is made because there’s no proof of who committed the crime.

However, Eldridge is no fool, and he lectures John by telling him that he won’t tolerate any criminal activities. Eldridge also makes it clear that John has been given a chance to turn his life around, and John better not ruin it. John asks Eldridge again why he was chosen to be in this foster family: “Why me? Why not a good kid?” Eldridge replies, “Everybody deserves a second chance.”

It isn’t long before John discovers something about Eldridge that explains why Eldridge didn’t mind taking in a troubled kid with a criminal background. Slowly but surely, John warms up to his new family. When Eldridge finds out that John might be interested in BMX bike riding, Eldridge not only teaches John how to ride a bike but he also buys John a BMX bike.

The rest of the story goes how most people would expect it to go. As John begins to become better-adjusted in school and his BMX talent begins to blossom, he eventually starts to enter competitions. It’s not smooth sailing, since he gets rejected more than once, but he’s persistent in pursuing his goals. John’s racist older brothers find out that John is living with interracial foster parents, so they come back into his life and cause trouble.

“The Ride” director Ranarivelo co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Hadeel Reda, J.R. Reher and Jean-Marie Sobeck. “The Ride” is a fairly solid film, but ironically, the BMX competition scenes that are supposed to be the most exciting are actually not as interesting as they should be. Maybe that’s because there are obvious stunt doubles which detract from these BMX scenes trying to look realistic. The best parts of the movie undoubtedly have to do with John’s expected redemption arc.

Bridges’ performance as Eldridge is at times a little stiff, but he and Alexander are convincing overall as caring foster parents, while Graham turns in a capable performance as teenage John. “The Ride” isn’t an award-worthy movie, but it efficiently serves its purpose for being a positive and life-affirming story that people of many generations can enjoy.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “The Ride” on November 13, 2020.

Vin Diesel, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster attend grand opening of ‘Fast & Furious – Supercharged’ at Universal Orlando Resort

May 3, 2018

Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson at the grand opening of Fast & Furious Supercharged at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida on May 2, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort)

The following is a press release from Universal Orlando Resort:

Last night, superstars from the Fast & Furious franchise – star and producer Vin Diesel (Dom), and stars Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tej), Tyrese Gibson (Roman) and Jordana Brewster (Mia) – celebrated the opening of Universal Orlando Resort’s new attraction, Fast & Furious – Supercharged.

Diesel joined some of his Fast & Furious series co-stars for a celebratory moment reminiscent of the Fast & Furious films – featuring high-speed car action and an amazing stunt in front of the attraction. The moment culminated with a countdown led by the franchise’s superstars and an explosive pyrotechnics display.

With a worldwide box-office of more than $5 billion, the Fast & Furious film franchise is one of the highest-grossing of all time and has become a global phenomenon that has captivated audiences from around the world with action-packed storylines, unique characters and high-speed cars. Now, in the immersive family attraction – Universal Orlando guests can step into the blockbuster franchise and straight into the heart of the Fast & Furious series right alongside some of their favorite members of the Fast & Furious crew – Dom, Letty, Hobbs, Tej, Roman and Mia – all played by the films’ stars.

During the experience, guests will:

  • join up with the Fast & Furious crew as they feel what it’s like to step into their favorite Fast & Furious film;
  • immerse themselves in an authentic re-creation of the Fast & Furiouscrew’s warehouse headquarters – filled with actual props, iconic scenes, authentic details and supercharged vehicles from the films;
  • ride with the family and crew as the film’s soundtracks pumps, vehicles flip, rockets fire – and the action builds; and –
  • check out more than a dozen of the supercharged cars from the films – including some driven by their favorite characters, like Dom’s classic muscle car, Roman’s super lux coupe and more.

Fast & Furious – Supercharged is now open at Universal Orlando. Guests can save up to $100 on a Universal Orlando Vacation Package and Florida Residents can take advantage of the limited-time Buy a Day, Get a 2nd Day Free offer to experience everything at Universal Orlando Resort, including Fast & Furious – Supercharged. To purchase these special ticket offers and for more information on Fast & Furious – Supercharged, visit www.UniversalOrlando.com/Fast.

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