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‘Hobbs & Shaw’ hits the sweet spot between the silly and the satisfying
Dwayne Johnson, right, and Jason Statham are mismatched partners in the action spinoff “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” (Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures)
ByMichael O'Sullivan
August 1, 2019
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(2.5 stars)
Lest there be any confusion between “Hobbs & Shaw” and the nameplate of a boutique law firm (or purveyor of fine men’s dress shoes), the full title of the new movie comes with a built-in disclaimer about its lowbrow provenance: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” A spinoff of the popular action franchise featuring two of that series’s recurring characters — Dwayne Johnson’s lawman Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s mercenary Deckard Shaw — the film is far from prestige fare, yet more often than not, it hits that summer sweet spot between the silly and the satisfying.
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Yes, it’s one long, loud and frequently ludicrous series of action set pieces (including a chase scene that sends a car and a motorcycle between the wheels of a moving tractor-trailer). But it’s also pretty funny and watchable, if not in abundance, then in just enough measure to counteract its unabashedly far-fetched plot.
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That plot — which like more recent iterations of the “F & F” juggernaut has migrated away from hot-rod culture to international espionage — pairs Hobbs, a straight-arrow agent of the Diplomatic Security Service on loan to the CIA, with Shaw, a disgraced former member of the British military. Their mission? To find and apprehend an MI6 agent (Vanessa Kirby) who is believed to have absconded with a “programmable bioweapon” code-named Snowflake.
This is complicated by the fact that someone else also wants that weapon: a cybernetically enhanced supervillain named Brixton (Idris Elba). That fact that the MI6 agent just happens to be Shaw’s estranged sister is a minor wrinkle, while mostly serving to justify the film’s sub-theme of family: In a brief, almost throwaway early scene, we see Shaw visiting his mother (Helen Mirren) in prison; Hobbs, for his part, has several interactions with a young daughter (Eliana Su’a), and the film’s genuinely eye-popping climax takes place in Samoa, where Hobbs grew up, facilitating a family reunion between Hobbs and his own estranged brother (Cliff Curtis).
From left, Dwayne Johnson, Idris Elba and Jason Statham in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” (Universal Pictures)
But really, “Hobbs & Shaw” is less about ancestry than action, which takes place in the context of constant trash-talking between its mismatched heroes as they go about their globe-trotting business. Hobbs, a man of the people, describes himself as “an ice-cold can of whup-ass,” while Shaw — by sharp, and sharply dressed, contrast — says, “I’m what you might call a champagne problem,” before proceeding to beat up a host of bad guys while holding a bottle of bubbly, and never spilling a drop. Hobbs drives a truck (or motorcycle). Shaw: a garage full of expensive sports cars. But it is only in that Samoa-set third act that the film returns to its “Fast & Furious” roots, in a physics-defying sequence involving a helicopter that has been tethered to several souped-up all-terrain vehicles, like a kite.
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Call it “Mission: Impossible” for motorheads.
In place of Tom Cruise’s megawatt smile, for instance, are the intensely pearly whites of Johnson, whose character announces — aptly — that he has a secret weapon: “People actually like me,” he says, unlike the surly Shaw.
Vanessa Kirby stars in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” (Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures)
It’s true, and the actor’s charisma will go a long way toward helping viewers forgive the fact that many lines of dialogue are swallowed up by a combination of cacophonous background noise, booming soundtrack songs and thick cockney accents. Did I say dialogue? This is a screenplay that will not win anyone any writing awards. And what passes for disguise — in a story that makes no secret of its willingness to ape the familiar contours of a “Mission: Impossible” plot, including, yes, a ticking countdown timer — is simply a series of goofy hats and one very sophomoric alias that Hobbs is forced to adopt: “Mike Oxmaul.”
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There are a couple of entertaining cameos that are best appreciated when the surprise is not spoiled, including one very funny scene involving an air marshal. Ideally, “Hobbs & Shaw” works best if don’t just come in blind, but if you lower all your expectations. Silence your cellphone — along with your brain — fasten your seat belt and sit back for a (bumpy) ride.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language. 137 minutes.
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