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Hobbs & Shaw prizes raw charisma over original action

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The first Fast and Furious spinoff needs a little more juice to get it over the finish line

Jason Statham and The Rock preparing for a fight in Hobbs & Shaw Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures

The Fate of the Furious, the eighth movie in the Fast & Furious franchise, set a new standard for outrageous action movie spectacle. But how do you follow a movie that features a race between a nuclear submarine and supercars on the arctic tundra? At a certain point the one upmanship of the Fast and the Furious franchise has to reach a breaking point.

Hobbs & Shaw is it. But while it may not have the same set piece panache as core Fast & Furious entries, the unstoppable charm of Jason Statham and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson mostly make up the difference.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) don’t like each other. This clear from past Fast & Furious movies, but Hobbs & Shaw makes a meal of this animosity. Hobbs is an upstanding, law-abiding super agent, and Shaw is a criminal who only cares about his family and nothing else. But what happens when they have to (gasp!) work together?

hobbs & shaw take out two goons while cocking their pistols Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures

The plot of the film is very much not the point of Hobbs & Shaw, but here are the basics: a world-ending virus is out in the open, supposedly stolen by Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). In truth it’s the robotically enhanced Brixton, played by a comically over-the-top Idris Elba, who is the real baddie in this scenario, and it’s up to Hobbs and Shaw to put aside their differences to take him down. Let me reiterate that this really does not matter. You are here for the quippy lines and shit blowing up, and the spin-off has plenty of both.

I wouldn’t imagine anyone heading to a Fast and Furious movie for the dialogue, but Hobbs and Shaw’s best moments revolve around the duo despising each other. Early on, Hobbs proclaims that Shaw’s voice sounds like someone “dragging his balls across shattered glass.” A ridiculous line, but delivered with perfect intensity by Johnson. Shaw, meanwhile, frequently mocks Hobbs’ enormous size and lack of subtlety. “This job requires stealth,” says Shaw. “Look at you.”

This banter works well, even in scenes without a hint of action. At one point The Rock has to cram himself into an economy seat on an airplane while wearing a disguise provided by Shaw (a comically tight-fitting jumpsuit), a setup that utilizes Johnson’s adeptness at physical comedy while Statham rips him to shreds.

The charisma of both men is matched by a handful of special guest cameos, including Ryan Reynolds, who has an entire scene to himself. Hobbs & Shaw is directed by Deadpool 2’s David Leitch, and Reynolds seems to be channeling the sweeter (if just as inappropriate) elements of Wade Wilson’s character as he describes having seen someone get stabbed by a brick (“how does that even happen?”) while in front of Hobbs’ tiny daughter.

Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) locking and loading a pistol in Hobbs & Shaw Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures

It’s a shame that Kirby’s Hattie doesn’t get the same sort of love in the script, as she’s more often used as a plot device and love interest for Hobbs. Which isn’t to say that female characters are totally underserved in this film: Helen Mirren returns as Shaw’s cockney-spewing mom (now in jail after the events of the last film) and predictably crushes the scene she’s in. Same goes for Hobbs’ mom (Lori Pelenise Tuisano), upstaging “The Rock” as few on the planet are capable of.

If only there were memorable action scenes. Almost all of the sequences, from a London street race to a sprint down the side of a building, feel like familiar F&F territory, and heavily rely on CG effects. Leitch is known for his close-up, realistic-looking fight scenes in John Wick and Deadpool 2. There are some of these in Hobbs & Shaw, but the majority have computers doing the heavy lifting, and feel like leftovers from James Bonds of yore (most notably a derelict nuclear power plant turned into a super secret evil lair).

The one set piece that manages to set itself apart is in Hobbs’ (and Johnson’s) native Samoa, where his family must have a final stand-off using tribal weapons against high-tech weapons. It’s visually unlike anything we’ve seen in the series before; seeing a shirtless Johnson lead his compatriots in a Siva Tau war dance before the fight is thrilling. The sequence also ends with the splashest stunt in the film, featuring a string of cars tied together to take down a helicopter. Outlandish? Unbelievable? Sure, but at least it was different!

Hobbs & Shaw leverages the charisma of its stars magnificently. I have no doubt that the duo will appear together again in the future. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie’s action doesn’t hit these same highs.

Hobbs & Shaw will be released Aug. 2 in theaters.