Editor’s note: Minor spoilers ahead.

Some say there’s no art to making popcorn-munching, mindless action movies. 

To that I say, watch “Fast Five,” then go see the new “F9.”

The Corona-swilling, nitro-boosting franchise is back with a numbered sequel approaching Jason Voorhees territory. One of the films of a “lost” 2020 summer season, at least the marketing didn’t mirror “Black Widow” with the “worth the wait” campaign.

Let me explain further, since it pains me to say I didn’t enjoy a “Fast” movie. There’s an emotional balance when it comes to action films that hinge on insanity. The earlier entries in the series left you walking out of the theater thinking “that was fine, but there is a lot of untapped potential here.” That potential was the sheer madness the series could dwell in with a spy-action thriller mold, potential that was realized with “Fast Five.”

With “Five,” the series crested due to a breakneck-paced plot and seamless yet motivated acting. Everyone upped their game to help make Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson a Hollywood sensation, with each character beaming off the screen. The mayhem was enhanced, yet condensed, leaving you satisfied yet wanting more.

In the past two films, “Fate of the Furious” and “F9,” the scale has tipped in the opposite direction from earlier “Fast” fare. The lunacy is so maximized that is almost saps you of your viewing energy. Instead of ebbs and flows, this is all ebbs, not allowing you to immerse yourself in any particular plot point. The moments of actual character introspection that last longer than two minutes are nary, and instead of paying full attention, you’re too worried that the scene will end with a magical story-mover alarm. That’s literal, by the way, usually blaring in the Vin Dieselized Batcave.

Because the moments of feeling how these characters feel are so few, the typical action plot twists ring hollow. 

Instead of trying to make The Rock, this movie tries to make The U, as in U Can’t See Me. John Cena has made a serious push for superstardom after the professional wrestling life, with a role as the misguided antihero Jakob Toretto a natural one after Rock’s turn as a bad boy in “Five.” The differences between “Five” and “9” are clear, however, as “Five” had reasoning for Rock’s change of heart. Cena’s change wasn’t really of heart, just in allies, with the moment of betrayal by Cipher (Charlize Theron) unearned. In a franchise spanning nine flicks, I need more than six minutes devoted to why Jakob is who he is before I accept his turn as a stand-up guy.

Speaking of Cipher, Theron siphons the viewer of any fun with her dialogue, through no fault of her own. Like I said, it’s dialogue, not screen presence, since she’s always had that. If you’ve seen the film, the “Star Wars” dialogue tree was rather complicated and depressing for a cheesefest. That truly describes Cipher’s character involvement in these movies, depressing. Too many things happen in the “Fast” universe for me to believe it’s actually Earth they’re on (and they leave Earth during the film, anyways). So, why would I want a “realistic cyber terrorist” in a complete fantasy adventure? Save the cyber criminals for the dramas. An easy fix would have been placing Jakob in Cipher’s villain role in “Fate,” with the big reveal that he is the brother of Dom Toretto (Diesel) coming in this one.

It’s unfortunate, too, because the “Cipher Saga” will be on the menu for the next two movies. If Tyrese is right, and they really are superheroes, they sure picked a lame Thanos.

Score: 4/10


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