Thursday, November 07, 2019

"Hobbs & Shaw": two-paragraph review

There's really no need to devote much space to a review of a piece of fluff like 2019's "Hobbs & Shaw," a spinoff of the Fast and Furious series of movies featuring latecomers Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw. The plot revolves around a deadly engineered virus called Snowflake, which MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby, a.k.a Tom Cruise's current girlfriend) has, in desperation, injected into herself in an effort to keep the pathogen away from Eteon, a globe-spanning organization intent on killing "weaker" humans and replacing them with technologically enhanced ones. Among the enhanced is Idris Elba's Brixton Lore, who had served with Shaw back in the old days, and whom Shaw had seemingly killed when Lore went rogue. Lore is now, as he terms himself, "black Superman" thanks to the enhancements he has received from Eteon, and he is leading the operation to recover the Snowflake virus from Hattie. Eteon controls the world's media, so along with making Hattie appear to have killed her fellow MI6 operatives, the organization turns Hobbs and Shaw into pariahs as well. With a bitter history going back to previous films, Hobbs and Shaw already hate the idea of working with each other, but because Hattie is Shaw's sister, and because Hobbs is slowly becoming sweet on Hattie, the three of them must learn how to work together to extract the as-yet-inactive virus from Hattie's body and get it locked down before Eteon can grab Hattie and take it from her by force.

This action-comedy is a throwback to the big, dumb action-comedies of the 1980s, like "Commando" and "Lethal Weapon," and even "Tango and Cash." The movie doesn't take itself even a bit seriously; the humor is cringe-inducing, yet hilarious precisely because it's so cringe-y. The major character beats are all predictable: of course Hobbs and Shaw will start off as rivals/enemies and end up friends (well, friends who rather cruelly prank each other*). The fight choreography is a major step backward from the super-vicious, krav-maga-style hand-to-hand combat that filmmakers favor these days, with Dwayne Johnson ungracefully fighting like a reborn Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Statham fighting as if he were in an old-school Hong Kong actioner. The vehicle-related action sequences that are the bread and butter of all the Fast and Furious movies are, as you might expect, cartoonishly oblivious to the workings of actual physics: just switch your brain off and enjoy the mayhem. Johnson and Statham radiate good bromantic chemistry, and despite how utterly stupid the movie was from the get-go, I had a big smile on my face even as early as the film's first ten minutes. Idris Elba as Brixton Lore—a supervillain in his own right as well as a pawn of Eteon—makes for an impressively capable bad guy, and I loved his character's enhanced motorcycle, which could act autonomously, and which reminded me of a faithful dog, nimbly following its master around. Director David Leitch also helmed "Deadpool 2"; he's a very competent action director and storyteller, although this movie doesn't really have much of a story to tell. There's a third-reel sequence that takes place in Samoa and gives Dwayne Johnson a chance to bare and flex his mighty chesticles while stamping out the Samoan version of a haka; the scene is corny and derivative, but it works within the silly context of the film. I do have to give the movie credit for defying one of my predictions: I was sure that Ryan Reynolds's character (Reynolds has a cameo along with Kevin Hart; both bring teh funneh) was going to turn out to be the Eteon bigwig. I was wrong, and that's a good thing. As long as you go into this film with an 80s-action mindset, you'll like almost everything about it. If, however, you're looking for a real story and for Daniel Day Lewis-level acting, give this one a pass.

*Shaw gives Hobbs a fake ID with the name Mike Oxmaul (say it out loud). Hobbs later returns the favor by calling the police on Shaw, but he deliberately misidentifies him as Hugh Janus (again, say it out loud, pronouncing "Janus" as "jey-niss").

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