HOBBS & SHAW, a live-action adaptation of an office wall of flash cards, is the final guillotine smash of a multi-year coup. Off with the beefy, racially-ambiguous bald head of the Diesel—if you smell what The Rock is cooking. One publicly disputed feud and a character with an on-screen presence quickly usurping that of the franchise’s original star later, The Rock has his own movie universe. And he didn’t even have to go through the nightmare Phase 1 of building it all up; the dude seized a revved-up machine from Universal. SKYSCRAPER’s hard flop was a small trip on the curb on his way into a Rolex dealership. Luke Hobbs’ introduction in FAST FIVE, the sterling installment of the franchise, is a baby-oiled masterstroke of revitalizing a tired brand, but HOBBS & SHAW’s iteration of him, Johnson’s most valuable character, now completely controlled by him, is so far from what made this character initially work. It strikes an unsettling tone. Johnson wants to hit each demo in every quadrant, so a character known for stoic deadpan is suddenly Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in one, leaving Jason Statham in the cold with a few turtlenecks and a feckless growl.
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A recent Wall Street Journal piece detailing the numerical values of how many body slams and punches the lead actors of the FAST franchise could take, so as to never be seen losing a fight, was a roast hosted by Film Twitter that was but a speck of dust on the windshield of HOBBS & SHAW’s box office photo-finish. People just love The fucking Rock and he feeds off it like barnacles to a whale. HOBBS & SHAW is his personal play on Wahlberg’s claim that he’d have been able to fight off the 9/11 hijackers, except The Rock’s delusions fall on the spectrum of being so engulfed in the sanctity of his image that he thinks he could’ve stopped Thanos. Schwartzel laments that “sheltering the tender egos of action stars is increasingly a cost of doing business,” and I’d extend the grievance a step further with how contractual bad-assery stifles the art of the kicked ass. Sure, you could write a grad thesis about the inherent flaw of the rules of fiction dictating a main character’s success as a source of participant satisfaction, but I’d much rather focus on the intense primal pleasures of growing up with action genre filmmaking. The joy of the Schwarzenegger canon is how dangerous each film felt—you bragged about watching motherfuckers get blown away on HBO’s 10 PM showing of COMMANDO to your friends at recess, but omitted the fact that you watched it on mute so as not to rouse your parents watching the nightly news in the living room. In HOBBS AND SHAW, The Rock and Statham are struck by a lethal electrical current four times a piece, but when they escape, there isn’t even a limp in their step. At 23-years-old, I’m embarrassed telling you now.
Always neat when the actors playing brother and sister have more sexual chemistry than the actual characters set up for a romance
We meet our heroes in a split-screen. One crunches into a spoonful of dry coffee in a sun-soaked kitchen, and the other lives in London, so, everything is colored grey. Is it parallelism or repeated arcs? Hobbs’ heart-to-heart with his daughter is followed by Shaw’s beat-for-beat identical jail visit with his mother—the film’s over two hours because script pages have been double-xeroxed. Ghastly humor tints every line that isn’t the umpteenth “Nobody tells me what to do! Grrr!” Every single jab Jason Statham hurls at The Rock, and vice versa, over “are you compensating for something?” is gleefully tone-deaf to HOBBS & SHAW’s exhausting posturing. As they hurl insults at each other fresh out the writers’ room, the only thing missing is Chris Hardwick screeching “POINTS!” after every Game of Thrones jab or soggy roast. Two major cameos from our biggest comedy stars are suck-the-air-out-the-main-cabin high-fatality disasters made all the more tragic by the realization that, wow, fuck, these are our kings of comedy. Some of the dumb-fun action antics are charmingly juvenile, though! Idris Elba’s evil boss is a hallway of computer screens that speaks in a deep voice modulation straight out of Garage Band. That’s not snark, I used this same vocal effect in a senior year high school project and couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how to eliminate the tinny pitch of the filter over my laptop mic-recorded line-readings. Knowing Universal Pictures couldn’t figure it out either is a beautiful motivator. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise’s music supervision, licensing the timeless sounds of Limp Bizkit and Petey Pablo, lives in rose-tinted infamy—what were legitimate nightmare tracks then are now seen as hokey calling cards of a charming era of “uncool cool.” I will swallow my own esophagus if HOBBS & SHAW’s soundtrack receives this royal treatment come the 2030s. Faux-hype hollow-bass jock rap and the squalid remains of hard rock wreak havoc in the song selections, a soundtrack to a flailing New Year’s resolution January gym visit.
Stay yoked, comrade
Enemy rifles can be set to fire electric rounds at the flip of a switch and the heartfelt moral at the end of the film is the lesson that the only thing better than one person punching a guy is two people punching a guy. It’s all ironically-distanced Fortnite logic, but The Rock free-falling down a skyscraper using rappelling enemy soldiers as cushions should look cooler than it does. Maybe Tom Cruise halo-jumping in a single take has spoiled me on believing a bulky mass of Samoan flesh could float like a feather and not tear through human skin with the force of his own body. Leitch’s eye for action cinema is out of time in a post-FURY ROAD and JOHN WICK action landscape, but also out of touch in a hyper-realized 2006 where CRANK and MIAMI VICE ruled. His vision of Action Movie: The Movie has the verve of a Verizon Wireless commercial. HOBBS & SHAW is gunning for the washed-out DEADPOOL blurriness, with its few pops of color resembling the airbrushed imagery on the cardboard backing of action figure packaging. He’s satisfied with the portrayal of action as a concept, but never in a way valuing the individual beats of physicality or destruction that illicit thrill—there’s a really cool slow-motion shot of a motorcyclist narrowly skidding underneath an 18-wheeler, but the same amount of care is also dedicated to ensuring the Maclaren logo gets its own insert mid-chase.
Leitch’s film, oh who am I really kidding, Johnson’s film suffers from GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS syndrome—the feature fails to stand toe-to-toe with the awe-inspiring marketing material that compensated so hard for the lack of a desirable product. For the Iowa folks who only frequent a theater one-two times per year, this anti-rhythmic, globe-trotting bloodless brawling pairs well with ENDGAME, with the same vacuous political propensities regarding eugenics and genocide enough to establish stakes otherwise nonexistent in the text. Samoan natives fending off a eugenicist militia in their heartland with traditional weaponry and a passionate plea to the gods? It’s a killer concept, but we’re brought to it with the understanding that The Rock abandoned these people, his people, and suddenly returns to them to enlist them into a war they never asked for or needed to be involved in. If I was desperate for a hot take, I’m sure something could be said about a viral infection codenamed SNOWFLAKE in the same film where the best, all-American spec ops soldier in the business begins every morning reading Nietzche, but there are actual real movies to be discussing and I am an adult. Am I the fool for expecting anything more from a FAST AND FURIOUS installment? For sure, but it doesn’t make me any less disappointed in how drab major media is in the final days of civilization. When the melting of the polar caps submerge Los Angeles in toxic waves, I’ll toss and turn over how even when we had our major faculties about us, we didn’t even make a grand show of our downfall. Like HOBBS & SHAW playing its credits while an entire epilogue of emotional pay-offs plays out in pop-up windows, we just went out.