(PG-13 / 2hr 25m / Universal Pictures)
Overview: Vin Diesels Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon.
This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he is going to save those he loves most.
His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they have ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Doms forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena, the upcoming The Suicide Squad).
Verdict: Welcome back, Justin Lin! The director of four consecutive Fast and Furious films — from 2006s underrated The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to 2013s expectations-meeting Fast & Furious 6 — was not around for 2015s sometimes-excellent Furious 7, helmed by James Wan, and F. Gary Grays hugely frustrating 2017 entry, The Fate of the Furious.
Although Wan came close a couple of times, no one does Fast action — and delivers guilty-pleasure cinematic thrills — quite like Lin, and he proves it again with F9.
The big, long-delayed movie finally is dropping at a time when the country is easing back into going to the theater for some of its movie consumption. It really should put butts in seats.
Even though they are expected at this point — the $5 billion franchise is celebrating its 20th birthday this week — there are a few jaw-dropping moments dreamed up by Lin, his co-writers and his filmmaking team.
And, sure, F9 all but grinds to a screeching halt when some of its paper-thin characters are allowed to talk for too long, but that is the cost of doing Fast business. There is still so much bang for the buck here in a flick that generally flies by even though it runs for nearly two and a half hours.
The script by Lin and Daniel Casey (2018s Kin) — with a story credit also going to Alfredo Botello — mines new territory in the backstory of series central figure, Vin Diesels Dominic Toretto, by unearthing a never-before-mentioned estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena).
We meet younger versions of both Dom (Vinnie Bennett) and Jakob (Finn Cole) on the day their father, Jack (J.D. Pardo), died in a fiery crash on a racetrack.
Of course, Jakob is, like Dom, a master behind the wheel. He also happens to be a skilled assassin and aims to acquire the two halves of a device that would have world-shaking implications.
Although Dom does not initially know his brother is involved, the plot leads to Dom and his pals — they are basically a ragtag military strike team at this point — traversing the globe in an attempt to save the planets computer systems from being hijacked.
The brother-against-brother dynamic gives the filmmakers an excuse to bring back Jordana Brewster as Toretto sibling Mia. As you may recall, Mia and partner Brian — portrayed by the late Paul Walker in six Fast films — left the high-stakes life to raise their children.
Unfortunately, Mias inclusion does not add much to the affair, and it is not as though F9 would be character-starved without her. We also have series mainstays Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Doms tough-as-nails wife; the comically fearful Roman (Tyrese Gibson); and tech guy Tej (Chris Ludacris Bridges).
Also along for the ride are newer-to-the-group hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and old favorite Han (Sung Kang). The return of Han — thought to be dead — has been much publicized in the advanced footage and is nice to see.
Beyond that, F9 is stuffed — arguably overstuffed — with cameos ranging from Fast alums Queenie Shae (Helen Mirren), Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Cipher (Charlize Theron) and Twinkie (Shad Bow Wow Moss) to a certain pop music star.
F9 puts its back into trying to give the Dom-Jakob dynamic serious emotional weight, but Jakob is too bland a villain for it to hit home. And Cena, a professional wrestler whose many movie credits include the enjoyable 2018 comedy Blockers, does not have the charisma to make the character into something memorable.
Ultimately, F9 is at its best when it is having a good time, and it has a bunch of good times. As they usually are, Roman — who begins to suspect he is magically invisible after he somehow does not perish while driving a giant armored vehicle through a landmine-filled jungle — and Tej — who is more than happy to roast his pal for this theory — again are a blast together.
And given the franchises disinterest in the laws of physics, it is absolutely delightful to listen to Tej explain to Roman why a stunt they are about to pull will work: As long as we obey the laws of physics, we will be fine, he says. It is all math and science.
The insane stunts continue to the real star of this series, and F9 uses powerful electromagnetism as a way to differentiate this films climactic sequence from those that have come before it.
This leads to lots of flying cars and shattered glass and is just a literal and figurative blast. There is another component to the movies stretch run that makes good on a far-out idea fans have wanted to see for a while, but we will not say more than that here!
F9 is the first entry since 2003s Diesel-less 2 Fast 2 Furious to be penned by someone other than Chris Morgan, who has moved over to the Hobbs & Shaw spinoff series.
Even with the missteps of The Fate of the Furious, we were not looking to see him go, but F9 strongly suggests Lin — last seen directing 2016s underwhelming Star Trek Beyond — is the more important person when it comes to making a quality Fast.
He is signed on to direct and co-write a 10th and supposedly final entry in the flagship series. Theoretically, that gives him only one more shot to top his 2011 entry, Fast Five, which continues to stand as the franchises best.
Welcome back, Justin Lin. We believe in you! [MM]