A Film Review by Tim Riley

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (Rated PG-13) The high-octane “Furious” action franchise hits its eighth installment with “The Fate of the Furious,” and if you are not already onboard as one of the dedicated fans of this series, this might not be the most opportune time to jump in. Then again, it’s not like you really need to know a lot about character development or plot lines, and yet a passing acquaintance with the familial themes at the core of the relationships binding the former underground street racers is somewhat helpful.  Now that the late Paul Walker, arguably the heart of the franchise in its early goings, remains only a revered legacy, the mantle of the family ties rests with Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto, who has a lot to say about kinship when not driving fast cars.

In the opening scenes, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are honeymooning in Cuba, and street racing excitement turns up in the form of what the locals call the “Cuban mile” when Dom turns his cousin’s old Chevy junker into a nitrous oxide-fueled racing machine. The wildly dangerous street race through Havana neighborhoods pits Dom against a local racing legend, the proud owner of a fully restored 1956 Ford Fairlane that has the enviable status as the Caribbean island’s premier unbeatable hot-rod. This is the first American production to film on Cuban soil, and from the looks of the results, not only is the architecture scenic but there are plenty of great vintage pre-Castro vehicles kept running by the ingenious crafting of auto parts from boat engines and lawnmowers. The Havana locale also sets up the premise of “The Fate of the Furious” when Dom’s destiny is altered by an encounter with a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron) having car trouble.  Cipher’s dreadlocks should have been the tipoff that she was possibly up to no good.

Without giving away some details, it’s enough to know that Cipher holds enough persuasion and knowledge to involuntarily recruit Dom into a nefarious plot involving nuclear weapons straight out of a James Bond film.Cipher’s timing coincides with Dom and his team being called into action in Berlin by Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, now firmly established as a key player in the “Furious” franchise).  The mission objective is to retrieve a weapon that Cipher desperately needs for her scheme. Not unexpectedly, the mission goes wrong when Dom betrays his colleagues to make off with the nuclear device, leaving Hobbs behind to be arrested by the German authorities and placed in a supermax prison where escape looks to be impossible. After landing behind bars, Hobbs finds himself reunited with his old nemesis Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who starts frothing at the mouth for a prison yard brawl.  Forces behind the scenes see to it that a prison break is orchestrated so that both guys are set free.

The tensions between Hobbs and the criminal mastermind Deckard is palpable.  Together, they bring the type of apprehension and friction that is made all the more interesting with the anxious banter. Pulling the strings, of sorts, comes courtesy of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a senior American government operative who appears to answer to no one and is only too eager to track down Cipher before her plans for world domination reach the level of North Korean insanity. Mr. Nobody gets an assist from his sidekick, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), who seems to serve little purpose other than to be the butt of jokes from Dom’s old pals who have thrown in with Hobbs. Aside from Letty, the crew of street racers working to save the world include Ludacris’ Tej and Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, both of whom spend time competing for the attention of the team’s genius hacker, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who mainly sticks to the business at hand.

 A surprising new player is Helen Mirren’s mysterious woman who has a small but pivotal role as an intermediary to run interference in the underworld.  The refined Brit is acting royalty who may have taken the job to be reminded of similar work in the two “Red” spy thriller films.  As you can imagine, “The Fate of the Furious” is mostly about the action set-pieces from street racing in Havana to an assault on a remote military outpost in the frozen plains of Siberia. The most impressive action scene takes place on the traffic-congested streets of New York City, when Cipher orchestrates an assault on the Russian Foreign Minister’s motorcade by hacking self-driving cars to create spectacular vehicular mayhem.  “The Fate of the Furious” hangs on the adrenaline thrills produced by the action-fueled stunts.  The plot is basically immaterial and the action thrills could be interchangeable with that of many James Bond films.  But the fan base will be delighted with the results. To save yourself a bit of time during the long credit roll, please note that unless you are interested in reading all the names of crew members on the Iceland shoot there is no post-credit scene to tease the next installment.