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Review: 'F9' Puts The Pedal To The Metal To Restart The Hollywood Blockbuster

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A fast and presumably furious $212 million - that is what Vin Diesel and his hard-driving pals have made in China so far with their latest blockbuster. "F9" premiered overseas last month while waiting for pandemic-shuttered cinemas to open in the U.S. because, as its star says in an ad...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

VIN DIESEL: (As Dom) There's nothing like that moment when the lights go down, the projector ignites, and we believe.

CHANG: Now, in a moment, we'll talk about the enduring success of the nine-film "Fast Saga." But first, Bob Mondello reviews this latest installment.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: If you've seen the "F9" trailers, you've seen the film's first big set piece. Our motley Heroes have driven across a minefield somewhere in Central America, escaping unscathed because they're just so darn fast. And now Dom and his wife, Letty, are in a black sedan, pursued, as is their habit, by missile-shooting helicopters headed for what their map said was a bridge, one of those cable and plank things...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: (As Letty) Where's the bridge?

MONDELLO: ...That we've already seen disintegrate. So as they approach the edge of a very high cliff over a very deep chasm...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

RODRIGUEZ: (As Letty) No, no, Dom.

MONDELLO: ...There's just a single pylon left sticking up. Naturally, Dom aims for it and hits the gas. And wouldn't you know? The car catches on a metal cable as it goes sailing into space, swinging them around like Tarzan on a vine or maybe like a yo-yo on a string, landing them with a crash on a different cliff.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

MONDELLO: The helicopter pilot assumes - not unreasonably - that they couldn't have survived and flies away.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

RODRIGUEZ: (As Letty) Well, that was new.

MONDELLO: That is the idea, though after eight of these shindigs, new is getting noticeably harder to pull off, not that director Justin Lin, who's made four previous installments, is out of ideas.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

TYERESE GIBSON: (As Roman) Man, we messing with magnets now?

MONDELLO: He just has to inflate them these days. So besides that swan dive off a cliff, we get an armored truck the size of a locomotive doing a somersault and a car launched into orbit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

LUDACRIS: (As Tej) Please tell me that's not a Pontiac Fiero strapped to a rocket engine.

JASON TOBIN: (As Earl) Impressive, I know.

LUDACRIS: (As Tej) No.

MONDELLO: And Vin Diesel's Dom and his team globe-trotting from Tbilisi to Monte Quinto - yes, I had to look that up - to save the world while dodging whole platoons of assassins, all of them breathtakingly bad shots.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR CRASHING)

MONDELLO: Everything definitely grander in "F9," if less tied to any sort of real suspense - vast and spurious, maybe. The grandness is also unrelated to plot, of which there's quite a bit, mostly centered on family.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

JOHN CENA: (As Jakob) Been a long time, Dom.

DIESEL: (As Dom) Little brother.

MONDELLO: Estranged by a tragedy in their youth, Dom and his supervillain-ish sibling, played by a tight-lipped John Cena, spend much of this reunion's 2 1/2 hours glowering at and pummeling each other. That probably sounds like more fun than it is - actually, most of this does, I'm guessing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "F9: THE FAST SAGA")

DIESEL: (As Dom) Crank it all the way up.

MONDELLO: Cars and comaraderie notwithstanding, though, there's bound to come a point when elaborately staged mayhem and even deliberately preposterous world domination fantasies just feel overdone. Give "F9" points for a real-world domination fantasy that involves getting people back into theaters. But here's hoping that once it's lured the crowds back, it will clear the way for "F10" to be less labored and more a labor of love. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.