It is incredible that a movie about street racers and their cars has turned into a high octane franchise that is presently in its eighth edition. The repetition of fixed and well loved themes seems to be one of the keys to the success of the series. Just as a discussion on the potency of a magic brew or the power of a magic wand held fans in thrall in the ‘Harry Potter’ series, the horse power of high performance cars, the beauty of their classic makes, and the dates of their manufacture, bewitch Fast and Furious fans. There is a scene in this installment where the driving team are taken into a vast showroom of the most prized cars in the world. Everyone in the audience just drools.
Other more general themes – friendship, loyalty and the importance of family – are, of course, an essential ingredient of this series too. The entire narrative of Fast and Furious 8, for example, revolves around the misperception that Dom (Vin Diesel) has betrayed his friends, his colleagues and his newly married wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), by going over to the dark side, so to speak.
It all begins in Havana, Cuba, the only city in the world where the grandest and most extravagantly designed gas guzzling American cars of the 1950s are preserved, not as vintage, but as functional vehicles. The residents were not able to import any later editions of American cars after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
Dom is on his honeymoon with Letty here when he challenges a local to race against him. The car he drives is a beat up jalopy with a motorboat engine, because there are no replacement parts for a vehicle that has stopped production in the United States several decades ago. He soups it up with some added on thrust and races it through the streets of Havana. It is the most beautiful sequence in the whole movie, shot from helicopters that give you a panoramic view of the run down buildings, the narrow streets, and the classic colonial architecture of this iconic city. Dom finally wins the race by driving his car backwards, so as to put the fire out in his overheated engine. When the local resident he beats offers him his own car as a prize, he refuses, saying that the respect of a driver from Havana is reward enough for him.
It is in Cuba that the plot unravels. Dom meets the villain, criminal mastermind, Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows him a mysterious picture on her cell phone. On this one glance of a photograph he goes over to her side and betrays his wife on their honeymoon, his most loyal friends, and his nation. What form of blackmail could that visual entail?
As long as the Fast and Furious series sticks to cars and friendship, it works. But in edition No 8, unfortunately, we get involved with sub-plots that are more closely associated with espionage movies; things like stealing the nuclear code from the Russian Ambassador in order to control the political maneuvering of that nation. We get to know that Cipher has pressured Dom to switch sides because she wants to place restrictions on the nuclear arms possessing nations of the world, particularly Russia, by hacking and stealing their codes. For this project she needs the finest driver.
Ironically, the sex appeal of Charlize Theron and the unusual focus on her beautiful face, hot body, and the evil mind of the character she plays, seems to have side-tracked the movie somewhat. By the time we find out how and why Dom has been blackmailed, and by the time we welcome him back to the warmth and camaraderie of the ‘Fast and Furious’ team, we have lost some of the reason for the existence of the series. Dom mentions the word ‘family’ dozens of times in the film. But we don’t get the family feeling this time round. This is precisely what is missing here.