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Between the Rock and a Hard Man

Dwayne Johnson
Dwayne Johnson
Usal Pictures
 137 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed ByDavid Leitch
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba
Hobbs & Shaw

It was bound to happen eventually. The Fast and Furious franchise, which began as a simple old-school B-movie in 2001 about illegal street racing, has kept growing and growing over the ensuing years, adding new characters left and right and rarely, if ever, jettisoning anyone. Even those who start out on the dark side, like brothers Jason Statham and Luke Evans, eventually see the light and become part of the franchise’s extended family. But with the latest film, The Fate of the Furious, having a cast almost as large as the population of some small European countries, something had to give. That something was actor Dwayne Johnson, whose conflict with series star Vin Diesel eventually led to an impasse between them. But rather than simply pack his bag and leave the franchise, Johnson merely spun off of it, joining up with Statham for Hobbs & Shaw, a movie that’s practically another entry in the Fast and Furious franchise, for better or worse.


Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (the rather pretentious full title of the film) has all the elements fans have come to love in a Fast and Furious movie: well-muscled actors, well-muscled motor vehicles, outrageous CGI-enhanced stunts that defy every law of physics, and an emphasis on family. But while the cast of the Fast and Furious movies was generally one big happy family, Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) march to the beat of a different cinematic drummer: the unwilling partners who hate each other’s guts but have to put aside their differences to save the world.


And the world definitely needs saving in Hobbs & Shaw. A shadowy villainous organization called Eteon, led by a disembodied computer-disguised voice (who will undoubtedly turn out to be a familiar villain in a future movie) wants to get its hands on the deadly Snowflake virus. This virus, when fully weaponized, can kill millions and help remake the world the way Eteon wants (highly unoriginal plot idea here). The head of Eteon dispatches the cybernetically enhanced agent Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a former partner of Shaw, to steal the virus. Although Lore wipes out the MI6 team that’s trying to keep the virus out of his hands, the last surviving agent, Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), injects the virus into her body and flees. The virus and Hattie thus become the movie’s McGuffins, as Lore spends the next two hours trying to get ahold of it while Hobbs and Shaw try to keep Hattie safe.


Sharp-eyed readers of this review may notice that Hattie’s last name is Shaw, and that’s no coincidence, since she is Owen’s estranged sister, and they naturally have a bickering, bonding moment or two. That’s nothing, however, compared to the bickering and bonding between Hobbs and his family in Samoa, where he goes to hide out from the forces of Eteon. And that bickering and bonding is nothing compared to what goes on for the entire movie between Hobbs and Shaw. They just can’t stand each other and continuously try to one-up the other. They also pull various practical jokes on each other that went out of style for most people around the time they entered middle school.


There’s not much of a plot to Hobbs & Shaw, just extended chase and action scenes. These include a car-and-motorcycle chase through London streets, in which Lore chases after Hobbs and Shaw on a motorcycle capable of driving itself when needed. Later, there’s another big shootout at a Chernobyl-styled nuclear facility. And finally, in the piece-de-resistance, Hobbs manages to use a tow truck’s grappling hook to snare and drag a helicopter in flight behind the tow truck Shaw is driving. Not surprisingly, these scenes employ almost as many CGI-effects as the Avengers movies do.


In some ways, Hobbs & Shaw resembles an old-style James Bond movie, as Brixton Lore gives various speeches about how superior he is to the rest of the world, while the SPECTRE-like Eteon manipulates the media into believing that Hobbs and Shaw are the wanted terrorists. Indeed, this movie has considerably more villainous prattling than do most of the Fast and Furious films. But the payoff is worth it because Lore is a rarity in the franchise: a truly powerful, dangerous villain. He even calls himself, with considerable justification, the black Superman, as his enhanced strength makes him a formidable foe in the various fights against both Hobbs and Shaw. The final showdown pitting Lore against the other two delivers the goods, even if director David Leitch overdoes the slow-motion-battle-in-the-pouring-rain gimmick.


Director Leitch, who has been involved in a couple of other over-the-top action projects, including Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, struggles at times between the requirements of a typical action film and those of a Fast and Furious movie. I got the feeling that he was more interested in the more straightforward stunt work involving the various lead characters mixing it up with assorted stunt performers. Indeed, the big showdown has the good guys using “old school” Samoan weaponry (primarily spears, knives, and clubs), against an army of Eteon thugs. Those scenes work better than the ones that totally defy the laws of physics.


Hobbs & Shaw has considerably more humor in it than do the Fast and Furious movies, and you can mainly chalk that up to the absence of Vin Diesel, a black hole as far as comedy is concerned. While Diesel pretty much sucks the life out of humorous scenes, Johnson and Statham are adept at both physical humor and deadpan line delivery. That’s good because the script keeps recycling the same half dozen or so juvenile jokes over and over. Leitch does help out somewhat with skillful editing that boosts some weak routines. Also helpful is the presence of an unbilled Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart in cameos that are better for the surprise factor of seeing them show up rather than the material they have to work with.


At over two hours, Hobbs & Shaw overstays its welcome somewhat, especially when the jokes begin to wear thin. Still, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have excellent comic chemistry, and Vanessa Kirby proves quite adept as an action actress as well (she was also put to good use in last year’s entry in the Mission; Impossible franchise). With all the talent (and budget) this film had at its disposal, I got the feeling that Hobbs & Shaw was a bit of a disappointment in terms of its finished product, a solid single without that one really signature moment. In a summer of outright flops and disappointments, however, it should prove to be the action movie that will keep genre fans reasonably happy until the end of vacation.

In this clip, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham try to escape from Idris Elba.

Read other reviews of Hobbs & Shaw: 

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) on IMDb