This image released by Universal Pictures shows, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, seated left, and Nathalie Emmanuel, seated right, and Tyrese Gibson, standing from left, Scott Eastwood, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez in “The Fate of the Furious.” (Matt Kennedy/Universal Pictures via AP)

This image released by Universal Pictures shows, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, seated left, and Nathalie Emmanuel, seated right, and Tyrese Gibson, standing from left, Scott Eastwood, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez in “The Fate of the Furious.” (Matt Kennedy/Universal Pictures via AP)

Reeling it in: Still fast, still furious

“The Fate of the Furious”

Universal Pictures

2 hours, 16 minutes

Some franchises feel inevitable, like the James Bond films or “Star Trek,” constantly rebooting and spieling out new adventures every other year or so.

Other franchises keep ticking along almost like a perpetual motion machine rather than the fact that anyone particularly wants to watch them. Here I’m talking about mostly horror series like “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween.” There’s a long buried core of quality there somewhere, but it’s almost impossible to find.

And then there’s the most inexplicable franchise of all, “The Fast and the Furious.” This is a series born of a fairly niche film, a car fetish movie that had the benefit of a propulsive plot and a handful of attractive young stars. It wasn’t a great movie, and it wasn’t even all that successful. Vin Diesel, the film’s star, didn’t even come back for the eventual sequel, the abysmal “2 Fast, 2 Furious.”

There are plenty of films that have followed this path. A moderately interesting film that does little more than break even. An almost unrelated knock-off sequel that brings back one of the stars, probably desperate for work, and then a following film that is basically just using the name and nothing more.

I don’t call these franchises, or even series. These are cash grabs, plain and simple, and typically end up purely as straight to video enterprises. You’ve seen these movies, probably hyped on Netflix or on the video shelf – “Sniper,” “Universal Soldier,” even “Jarhead,” which was an anti-war movie with almost no action, but whose name is now used to market all manner of rah rah shoot ‘em ups.

Never, however, have I seen a series spin back up the way the “Fast and Furious” one has. The third movie, “Tokyo Drift,” had nothing to do with this series – was purely a name grab, except in the last few seconds, when Vin Diesel makes a surprise cameo. Director Justin Lin, who had mined another of his own early films for one of the main characters of “Tokyo Drift,” was eventually given the reins of the fourth installment of the “Fast” series three years later and the rest is history.

My guess is that this is all because Diesel, whose sci-fi films had pretty much fizzled, was desperate to reboot his own career by magically getting a redo on a poor business decision he’d made years earlier – that being to abandon the “Fast” franchise and to pursue a “Pitch Black” series of films following his character Riddick, an assassin who happens to come from a planet called “Furiosa.” Coincidentally, Charlize Theron, who plays the villain in this latest “Fast” film, played a character named Furiosa in the last “Mad Max” film, another franchise on the rise.

That’s a lot of back story to bring us up to the current film, but it’s par for the course for this series, which plays out like an extended soap opera. There’re a ton of characters and they appear and then disappear, get amnesia, die and come back, and, as happens with Vin Diesel’s Dom Torretto in this film, completely switch loyalties.

Dom and his new wife Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, are on honeymoon in Cuba when our hero is approached by a beautiful stranger. After promising Dom that he will soon betray his entire family (that’s the theme of these films – family) she shows him a cell phone video that changes his life. Before you know it, Dom is going rogue, attacking his former friend Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, and stealing the giant EMP device that can disable a small city with an electromagnetic pulse. Soon there will be launch codes, nuclear missiles, and a mad race across a frozen sea with a submarine in hot pursuit.

“The Fast and the Furious” has come a long way from the dusty street racers of LA.

The acting in these films is adequate, and the writing, though not particularly good, isn’t terrible, either. But neither of those qualities are what drives the box office for these movies. It’s all about the action, and “Fate” has action to spare. These movies are also about family relationships, though those subtle interactions are increasingly less important as the emotion gets crowded out for more explosions.

Luckily, the action in these films is top-notch, so it’s easy to get caught up in it. Very little about the plot makes sense, but neither does it make sense on “The Young and the Restless,” and that show ran for 40 years. The series had a to make a major shift with the untimely death of star Paul Walker a few years ago, but it seems to have weathered that change well.

At this point, there appears to be no end in sight. Diesel, Rodriguez, and The Rock, as well as the other dozen A and B list stars that inhabit this universe, could be fast and furious for the rest of their careers.

Grade: B+

“The Fate of the Furious” is rated PG-13 for action violence and some language.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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