The tedious 'Fast and Furious' spinoff delivers maximum chaos and minimal payoff

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Idris Elba saunters on screen at the beginning of "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw" and interrupts some sort of heist that's already in progress. "Who the hell are you?" he's asked. "Bad guy," he replies. 

That's everything you need to know about Elba's character, and that's everything you need to know about "Hobbs & Shaw," which dumbs down the "Fast & Furious" formula to a level where the characters practically speak in grunts. If it were any dumber, you'd worry about their ability to operate motor vehicles.  

The "Fast & Furious" movies have never been a forum for sharp intellectual discourse, nor are they meant to be. But even as radical and far-fetched as the films' marquee stunts have become over the course of eight previous (and increasingly ridiculous) movies, they've always managed to be well-executed and make for decently entertaining thrill rides. 

With "Hobbs & Shaw," that streak comes to a screeching halt.

The lughead charm of the series is traded for annoying back-and-forth between Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), two dudes who are equally badass in their own right but who Just. Cannot. Work. Together.

Their petty squabbling makes for an entertaining push-pull early on, but they run out of insults fast (and furious); by the end of the movie, they're reduced to simply calling each other "stupid." If Vin Diesel needed any assurance that he's the engine that keeps this series revving, he just got it, and he didn't even have to show up for a day of work. 

Hobbs and Shaw — it's clear they don't like each other and don't want to work together, right? — are called in to work together to take down Elba's Brixton Lore, a part-cyborg who's after a weaponized virus that turns people's internal organs into soup. He must be stopped, and the fate of the world is in the hands of Hobbs and Shaw! And just in case you didn't get the point, it's repeated several times that the fate of the world is in the hands of Hobbs and Shaw.

If only they could get along together! Cue some more insults, laugh laugh chuckle chuckle, but slowly the pair begin working together, just don't tell anybody about it because they'll deny it, okay? Joining them is Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), Shaw's sister, an M16 agent who holds the virus, literally, in her hand. Hobbs eventually begins making goo-goo eyes at her and their flirtation is played out like he's gearing up to ask her to the winter formal dance.

Johnson, always a charmer, here struggles to convey his natural charisma; he knows the material is boneheaded, but his Hobbs is overly sincere when delivering straightforward cheese like, "nobody tells me what to do." Statham, who makes a reference to his role in "The Italian Job" and still looks exactly the same as he did in the 2003 action flick, is better at conveying his rugged appeal, but that's because Statham is always Statham no matter the role. (Both, it should be noted, are bested by a pair of cameo-ing stars.)  

An undercurrent of family has always run through the "Fast & Furious" films, and here it leads Hobbs to visit Samoa, the island nation he left where his mother and brother still reside. This leads to a convoluted finale involving a tribal dance, a helicopter, a series of trucks and a literal cliffhanger that ranks among the most absurd sequences the "Fast & Furious" franchise has ever cooked up, entering into "Transformers" levels of nonsense. 

Director David Leitch ("Deadpool 2") brings a hyperactive visual style to the film that often renders the on-screen action incoherent. He speeds up and slows down the film during action sequences, giving them the effect of stop-and-go traffic. Late in the film when Hobbs delivers a head butt to a foe that's depicted in ultra slow-mo, the effect is a lot like watching "Hobbs & Shaw." After all the chaos and confusion, all you're left with is a headache.

'Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw'

GRADE: C-

Rated PG-13: for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language

Running time: 136 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

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