Wednesday 21 August 2019

Hobbs & Shaw review: Far too busy bickering to save the world

Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s squabbling double act makes this spin-off very watchable, says Paul Whitington

Axes to grind: F&F: Hobbs & Shaw is good daft fun, but their petty squabbling begins to grate after an hour. Photo: Frank Masi/Universal
Axes to grind: F&F: Hobbs & Shaw is good daft fun, but their petty squabbling begins to grate after an hour. Photo: Frank Masi/Universal
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Nothing, it seems, can derail the grim progress of this hare-brained action franchise, which has grossed more than $5billion since it first revved into the multiplexes back in 2001. Over nine loud and busy instalments, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of impossibly cool LA street racers have staged heists, evaded capture in outlandish car chases and been drawn into hammy geopolitical battles before ultimately turning to the good.

The Fast & Furious movies are essentially B pictures, but midway through the series the producers seemed to lose the run of themselves and start making really good action films. Fast Five is the generally agreed high water mark, after which all boats began to gently sink, though in fairness even the worst of these films are undeniably watchable. As is Hobbs & Shaw, a cheerfully trashy spin-off in which Dwayne Johnson reprises his role as Luke Hobbs, a DSS agent who befriended Toretto and his team after being sent to apprehend them.

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Apparently no love is lost between Messrs. Johnson and Diesel, and perhaps they're enjoying a well-earned break from one another, because Mr D does not show up in a playful cameo. Many others do, and more on that in a moment.

Worryingly, Luke Hobbs is studying an anthology of Nietzsche when we first meet him, and quotes the German sage at regular intervals during the film, unaware perhaps of his far right associations. But he doesn't get too much time for reflection, because one of Nietzsche's men of destiny is trying to establish a new world order of his own.

In London, a team of MI6 agents are tasked with seizing a deadly new bio weapon that has fallen into the hands of criminals. The job goes wrong when a man on a hi-tech motorbike who seems to have superhuman powers kills all the agents but one, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who injects the weapon into herself to neutralise it, and escapes. That man was Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a former MI6 agent who now works for a grandiose underworld organisation and has been cybernetically enhanced, a la Terminator. He wants that weapon badly, for reasons grimly fascistic, and meanwhile the whole world is on the trail of Hattie, who's been framed and accused of killing her colleagues.

Enter Hobbs, who arrives in London to be told he'll be working with a person he cordially detests. That would be Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), another fuming former MI6 agent who crossed swords with Dom Toretto and Hobbs in previous Fast & Furious instalments, and is no fan of the bristling man mountain. But reach an accommodation they must: the world's safety is at stake and Shaw, as they say, has skin in this game, because Hattie is his younger sister.

All of this bubbles up into a plot so absurdly grandiose it might have been lifted from a Roger Moore-era Bond film, but director David Leitch and his writers balance the end of the world stuff with knockabout comedy routines that regularly veer into pantomime. Hobbs and Shaw are the Buttons and Widow Twankey of the piece: they hate each other with such a passion that they spend most of the movie bickering like an old married couple, trading absurdly convoluted insults and regularly losing sight of the bigger picture (i.e. an impending mass slaughter).

The ever-likeable Mr Johnson is well able for light comedy, and very comfortable gently mocking himself. Jason Statham has been successfully purveying his monosyllabic hardman routine for so long now it almost begins to seem like acting, and the pair make an oddly compelling double act for at least the film's first hour, after which their petty bickering begins to grate.

Idris Elba, who can act, is reduced mainly to a monosyllabic hardman here himself, but was no doubt well paid for it, while Vanessa Kirby (late of The Queen) is so convincing in an action role that she makes you wonder if things might have turned out better for Princess Margaret if only she'd known karate.

There are amusing cameos, from Helen Mirren as Shaw and Hattie's salty, incarcerated mum, from Kevin Hart as a gabby air marshal, and must amusingly from Ryan Reynolds, as a needy CIA man who insists he's Hobbs' best friend. Silly science always threatens to overwhelm this amiable production, and does so during an overlong climax, but for the most part it's good daft fun, the kind of undemanding summer blockbuster we don't see nearly enough of any more.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12A, 136mins) - 3 stars

Films coming soon...

Playmobil: The Movie (Daniel Radcliffe, Gabriel Bateman, Adam Lambert, Anya Taylor-Joy); Animals (Holiday Grainger, Alia Shawkat); Blinded by the Light (Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Neil Williams); Gaza (Garry Keane).

At the Movies: Your guide to all the week's new releases

The Angry Birds Movie 2 (G, 97mins) - 3 stars

I wasn't a huge fan of the Angry Birds Movie, but over time, and repeated viewings with my six-year-old, Red and the gang have grown on me. This brash, bright and cheerfully unpretentious sequel is an improvement on the original, and is packed with jokes and one-liners, many of which work. Red (Jason Sudiekis) and his team are engaged in a proxy war with the piggies when he and Leonard (Bill Hader) realise they're both being attacked by a third party, a purple eagle with an axe to grind. This is crazy, knockabout stuff, but very funny at times, particularly when the birds and piggies start singing opera.

Only You (15A, 119mins) - 4 stars

The joy and idiocy of love at first sight is brilliantly captured by Harry Wootliff in this touching drama that veers off in unexpected directions. When Elena (Laia Costa) and Jake (Josh O'Connor) meet in Glasgow on New Year's Eve, they're both instantly smitten. But when Jake tells Elena he's 26, she panics and claims she's 29. She's really 35, and when the sweet and utterly sincere Jake finds out, he immediately starts worrying about her biological clock, and suggests they start a family. This well-intentioned notion will cause all manner of problems for the couple in this soulful, well made and beautifully acted film.

The Photograph (15A, 109mins) - 3 stars

Love is also the theme in The Photograph, though of a dreamy, unattainable sort. Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a Mumbai street photographer who talks passersby into letting him take their pictures. One day, he takes a photo of a beautiful, preoccupied young woman called Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), who leaves before he can give her the picture. Rafi's grandmother has been nagging him to settle down, so to mollify her he sends her Miloni's photo, claiming she's his fiancée. But things get complicated when granny takes it seriously. Though perhaps too ethereal for its own good in the end, Ritesh Batra's film has lots of charm.

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