Vin Diesel

xXx (2002, Rob Cohen)

Maybe if there were anything good about xXx–there are a handful of things not bad about it–but if there were anything good, the sky’s the limited compared to the mess director Cohen finishes with. As is, xXx is an overlong, boring, James Bond-knockoff. It starts with a James Bond stand-in getting killed in the first scene during a Rammstein concert; it’s so extreme, a guy in a tux being too lame for a metal concert. But it turns out director Cohen has never wanted anything more than to direct a crappy James Bond movie, one with a rocket boat in it.

So eventually it’s Vin Diesel vs. rocket boat, which isn’t a particularly good sequence. Cohen and editors Chris Lebenzon, Joel Negron, and Paul Rubell have no feel for the subject matter. With Randel Edelman’s drawn-out score, they’re really trying to cut together this seventies James Bond movie. Only Rich Wilkes’s hideously crappy script is all about this punk rock extreme sports bro getting forced into foreign service by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson’s bad. He’s got a scar, which only exists for Diesel to mock, and it still doesn’t get Jackson any sympathy. He’s just bad.

As for Diesel, he’s not good, but he’s trying. He’s clearly passionate about doing this extreme James Bond knock-off where he makes bad one-liners and objectifies women. If xXx were a spoof, it might work, but Cohen’s an earnest director. He really thinks giving Diesel a dorking, also objectifying Q-like sidekick in Michael Roof is good. Cohen really thinks his actors are giving good performances under his expert guidance. They’re not and his direction of the actors is abysmal–Asia Argento is clearly more capable than the material Cohen (and Wilkes and Diesel) give her.

Oh, maybe if Marton Csokas weren’t painfully weak as the villain, it’d be a little better too.

Still, the stunt work is impressive and until the lousy CGI takes over, there’s a really impressive avalanche sequence. If xXx had another brain cell–just another one–there’d have been great opportunity to juxtapose Diesel’s workman solution to an eye-roll inducing sequence in a Bond picture. Except Cohen maybe is just doing a resume for a Bond movie? It’d at least be an excuse. Otherwise it’s just gross negligence.

But, like I said, Argento seems like she could’ve done better and Diesel gets some sympathy for being in this tragically unhip hip, “extreme” movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; written by Rich Wilkes; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Chris Lebenzo, Joel Negron, and Paul Rubell; music by Randy Edelman; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Xander Cage), Asia Argento (Yelena), Marton Csokas (Yorgi), Samuel L. Jackson (Gibbons), Michael Roof (Shavers), Richy Müller (Milan Sova), Werner Daehn (Kirill), Petr Jákl (Kolya), Danny Trejo (El Jefe), and Eve (J.J.).


The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


Furious 7 (2015, James Wan)

Furious 7 has some really bad CGI. And I’m not talking about the creepy Paul Walker head at the end (during the utterly out of place and terribly integrated memorial sequence). It’s everything. Director Wan doesn’t know how to shoot a single scene in Furious, not the action scenes, definitely not the car scenes, even more not the fight scenes. No one–not Wan, not his four editors, not his two photographers–cares about making the action work in Furious. The CGI doesn’t improve it or solve a physically impractical problem. It’s just the easiest way to do it. Cheap CGI.

Of course, cheap is the keyword for Furious. Screenwriter Chris Morgan has only a handful of scenes not directly related to Kurt Russell (cashing a paycheck as a CIA agent) hiring Vin Diesel and company; those scenes are desperately melodramatic, either involving Michelle Rodriguez’s memory loss, Jordana Brewster not wanting to henpeck Paul Walker too much or… no, I think those two subplots are it.

Even Jason Statham hunting down Diesel, Walker and everyone else is underused. Once Morgan and Wan establish Statham, he just shows up in every action sequence to wreck havoc. What could have been anarchy working through the movie is instead a painfully bad performance from Statham.

Really terrible supporting performances from John Brotherton, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou.

Wan’s a bad director; he sinks Furious. The movie is absurdly mercenary. No imagination went into anything. Except maybe the cars and Wan can’t shoot those.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; directors of photography, Marc Spicer and Stephen F. Windon; edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), John Brotherton (Sheppard), Tony Jaa (Kiet), Djimon Hounsou (Jakande), Ronda Rousey (Kara), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Lucas Black (Sean Boswell) and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


Fast & Furious 6 (2013, Justin Lin), the extended version

For the most part, Fast & Furious 6 is a delightfully absurd action concoction from director Lin. The film drops the Fast and the Furious “family” into a James Bond movie; thank goodness, because it’s hard to imagine Roger Moore able to outdrive the bad guys here. And it’s even set in London (and later Spain). It’s not original, but screenwriter Chris Morgan does fold familiar action movie plot lines into a new situation. Lin’s making a non-fantasy (just absurd), non-realistic action extravaganza. It has to be seen to be believed.

But then there’s how much time is spent on Vin Diesel courting Michelle Rodriguez (she’s back from the dead, with amnesia–apparently Morgan doesn’t just like to lift from Empire Strikes Back, he likes to lift from “Days of Our Lives” too) and Lin handles it pretty well. Some of it. One spinning conversation is terrible, but the car race immediately proceeding it is fantastic work.

The thing about Furious 6 is Lin and photographer Stephen F. Windon do create breathtaking car race and car chase shots; they’re in the quickly edited sequences, but clearly done with deliberate, careful intent. And the car race between Diesel and Rodriguez is phenomenal stuff.

Some good acting from Evans, some bad acting from Gina Carano (though one of her fight scenes with Rodriguez is awesome). Everyone else is fine. Lin manages to get better performance from Dwayne Johnson here too.

Furious 6 is mechanical and superficial, but beautifully made and likable enough.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Kelly Matsumoto, Christian Wagner, Dylan Highsmith, Greg D’Auria and Leigh Folsom Boyd; music by Lucas Vidal; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Luke Evans (Shaw), Gina Carano (Riley), John Ortiz (Braga), Shea Whigham (Stasiak), Clara Paget (Vegh) and Elsa Pataky (Elena).


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

Guardians of the Galaxy does something splendid and director Gunn never really acknowledges it, which just makes it more splendid. The Rocket Raccoon character–beautifully voice acted by Bradley Cooper–is easily the most successful CG film creation to date. And Cooper gives the film’s best performance; whoever directed Cooper in the sound booth, be it Gunn, Cooper himself, someone else, does a great job.

Gunn directing the actual actors? Not a great job. Not great enough to notice Chris Pratt’s vanishing accent, Pratt and Zoe Saldana’s shocking lack of chemistry, Saldana’s more shocking lack of presence or the not even soap opera nefarious villainy of Lee Pace. So not a good job.

The less said about Glenn Close, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly and Benicio Del Toro the better.

Tyler Bates’s musical score combines plagiarism and ineptness (like much of the film’s visual design, actually).

Guardians is mean-spirited “fun,” with the audience always asked to laugh at someone or other’s suffering. The scenes where Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman try to confront it–usually between Pratt and Saldana–stop the film cold. Then the raccoon or his walking tree (who gets all the wonderment, which is silly) come along and save things.

Or even Dave Bautista, who’s not exactly good, but he’s sincere. And sincerity goes a long way in Guardians because there’s so little of it.

Gunn exhibits apathy, cruelty and an utter lack of imagination. Guardians is far better than it should be.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Gunn; screenplay by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, based on a comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne and Craig Wood; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Vin Diesel (Groot), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Lee Pace (Ronan), Michael Rooker (Yondu Udonta), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), John C. Reilly (Corpsman Dey), Glenn Close (Nova Prime), Laura Haddock (Meredith Quill), Sean Gunn (Kraglin), Peter Serafinowicz (Denarian Saal), Christopher Fairbank (The Broker) and Benicio Del Toro (The Collector).


Fast Five (2011, Justin Lin), the extended version

It’s almost embarrassing how well Fast Five is made. Director Lin can’t do two things–which might be important for the film if the story mattered at all–he can’t direct heist sequences and he can’t direct car races. He doesn’t care how the heist works or how the car race works, he cares about the scene looking good. And he and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon make Five look really good.

Is there any depth to that appearance? Not much, but it’s smooth and keeps the film moving at a good pace between action sequences. And there are lots of action sequences. Whether it’s car chases or fight scenes or gun fights, Lin puts together some amazing stuff. There’s no depth to it, but who cares… there’s pretend depth.

Chris Morgan’s script goes overboard acknowledging all the Fast and the Furious movies and their characters. Only there’s no depth to any of the characters. Gal Gadot and Sung Kang flirt. Is it cute? Sure, she’s an affable supermodel and he’s likable without much acting talent. Is it good? Not really. But it passes the time.

Until an action sequence. Or the promise of one (both Lin and Morgan very carefully build expectation for a fight between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson).

Speaking of Dwayne Johnson. He’s terrible. Laughable. But it’s actually immaterial to the film.

There’s some male bonding between Diesel and Paul Walker, but not much.

And Lin again gets a decent Walker performance.

In between amazing action scenes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Kelly Matsumoto, Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Peter Denham; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Matt Schulze (Vince), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Tego Calderon (Leo), Don Omar (Santos), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Michael Irby (Zizi) and Joaquim de Almeida (Reyes).


Fast & Furious (2009, Justin Lin)

With Fast & Furious, director Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan do something incredible. They take what, a decade before would have been at best a video game spin-off (maybe featuring the original, now down in their career cast's voices), and make an energetically mercenary movie out of it. The film's ludicrous at almost every turn, but it's hard not to appreciate a huge budget in CGI being spent on car chase after car chase.

Oh, there are some real cars racing, but Lin apes the conclusion to Return of the Jedi for the finale–just with cars. It's entirely admirable and entirely pointless. There's not an honest moment in the entire movie, everything is perfectly calculated to entertain. The film gets too loud and almost too busy–Gal Gadot's useless character is in the not really bad bad Bond girl part–seemingly because Vin Diesel wants a lot of tear jerker scenes to be a tough guy during.

Lin doesn't want to hold a shot–he's clearly more into Michael Bay for car chase inspiration than Billy Friedkin–but his composition is good and Amir Mokri does a fine job shooting the film. The real car racing footage looks great. All the composite CGI stuff is a little too obvious, but it's a video game, you're not supposed to care.

The film does require a certain enthusiasm for Diesel and Paul Walker's bromance; Lin gets a surprisingly okay performance from Walker.

Like I said, big, loud, dumb, sometimes perfectly amiable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), John Ortiz (Campos), Laz Alonso (Fenix), Sung Kang (Han), Tego Calderon (Tego), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Jack Conley (Penning), Liza Lapira (Trinh), Shea Whigham (Stasiak) and Don Omar (Don Omar).


Los Bandoleros (2009, Vin Diesel)

The strange part of Los Bandoleros isn’t how it ends lame–it’s how well it starts. Sure, there’s this dumb story about how Vin Diesel, on the lamb in the Dominican Republic, has become a Robin Hood to the local people.

Oh, right, forgot–It’s a Fast and the Furious vanity short “film” from Diesel. Undoubtedly something the studio did to make him happy.

Anyway, besides the stupid club scene and the foreshadowing for the subsequent action movie and, most of all, besides Michelle Rodriguez… Diesel’s got a not bad eye for his location shooting in the Dominican Republic. He’s got a great photographer (Shawn Kim) and, even though the script is really contrived, at least the pre-franchise stuff works.

It’s pretentious, sure, with Diesel telling the story of the little people, but the movie looks great. But looking great isn’t enough to make up for Rodriguez’s vapid performance.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Vin Diesel; written by Diesel and T.J. Mancini; director of photography, Shawn Kim; edited by Justin Bourret and Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez; production designer, Wilhem Perez; produced by Diesel and Jessy Terrero; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz), Sung Kang (Han Lue), Tego Calderon (Tego Leo), Don Omar (Santos), F. Valentino Morales (Malo), Mirtha Michelle (Mirtha) and Juan Fernández (Elvis).


The Fast and the Furious (2001, Rob Cohen)

An undercover cop (Paul Walker) finds himself drawn into a criminal underworld with a charismatic leader (Vin Diesel)! There’s not much original about The Fast and the Furious. What the screenwriters don’t lift out of Point Break, there’s director Cohen grabbing car chase related moments out of Lethal Weapon 3 and so on. Well, Cohen also does have a neat Duel reference too.

Oh, right. I should try to discuss The Fast and the Furious, not just list all the other movies it rips off.

Diesel’s fine. Walker’s bad. Michelle Rodriguez’s bad. No one else leaves an impression. Except Ted Levine, who should know better.

The movie has this strange disconnect between Cohen’s more traditional cops and robbers bro-mance and the pervasive, overbearing soundtrack. Whole sequences are just set to a song, seemingly chosen just because it’s loud and sounds cool. Peter Honess’s editing is deaf to the corresponding songs; even if they match the narrative, Honess can’t figure out where to cut them. The first half of the movie feels entirely different from the second, mostly because BT’s sentimental score completely replaces the Top 40 selections.

Another interesting disconnect is the one between how Cohen visualizes the race scenes and how the script talks about them. Diesel gets a long monologue about how it feels to drive and Cohen’s best idea for visualizing the experience is to make it play like a sci-fi movie. Time slows down and there’s bullet-time.

But time is just a magazine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer, based on a story by Thompson and a magazine article by Ken Li; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Peter Honess; music by BT; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), Rick Yune (Johnny Tran), Chad Lindberg (Jesse), Johnny Strong (Leon), Matt Schulze (Vince), Noel Gugliemi (Hector), Vyto Ruginis (Harry), Thom Barry (Agent Bilkins) and Ted Levine (Sgt. Tanner).


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