‘Hobbs & Shaw’ will turn your brain into pudding
I have no shame about my love for old ‘80s action films. I appreciate them for their campiness, their heroes’ bulletproof abilities and talent for spouting witty one-liners in the face of peril, the one-last-mission-to-retirement officers, the training (or mounting up) montages. There was a brainless simplicity to them, perfect for casual viewing and requiring little commitment from audience members aside from primal grunts and cheers.
It’s clear that the director of “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” David Leitch, is a fan as well; he even stages a scene with a number of ‘80s action-film pictures directly in the background. Leitch co-directed the simple-but-stylized “John Wick,” and while his subsequent films, “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2,” were not as tightly wrapped, they managed to tap into that Cro-Magnon portion of the brain when it came to delivering action.
“Hobbs & Shaw” is essentially a remake of “Tango & Cash,” an oversized, all-terrain Cooper Adventurer in the tire fire of ‘80s action cinema. This is the first offshoot of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, which has already crossed over from a goofy exploitation film about street racing to near science fiction in its span of eight films thus far. But here, it takes two side characters and manages to place them in a world that even The Avengers would dismiss as too cartoon-y.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Luke Hobbs, an American lawman who gets pulled in by the CIA for “one more mission,” only to find that it requires him to team with Derek Shaw (played by Jason Statham), a London operative who is Hobbs’ “frenemy.” They are tasked with stopping Britxton (played by Idris Elba), a cybernetically enhanced human who wants to get his hands on a virus that could wipe out half the world’s population.
To add to the threat, the virus has been voluntarily “hosted” by an MI6 agent (played by Vanessa Kirby) who injected it to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Oh, and she happens to be the younger sister of Shaw.
The global chase that follows is basically an excuse to show off car porn, logic-free stunts and testosterone-laced bickering between the film’s leads.
For the best part of “Hobbs & Shaw,” it all works, as both Johnson and Statham bring their self-aware style to the affair, and Kirby is more than just the gal in peril or the spark of sexual tension that most females are relegated to in this sort of flick (for example, in “Tango & Cash,” Terri Hatcher played the sister role, but was there only to gird the loins of Kurt Russel’s Gabe Cash; her full-time job was as an exotic dancer). The stunts here are as gleefully impossible as we’ve come to expect in the series.
And just like these stunts, somewhere about the two-hour mark it all becomes a bit too much. Just when things could be adequately wrapped up, we are sent out for another climactic showdown, which takes us to Hobbs’ Polynesian home, where his brothers and sisters help them battle the unstoppable Brixton.
It follows the series “family” narrative, but drags the entire affair on for an insufferably long stretch that could have easily been placed in a follow-up film. Equally frustrating is our heroes’ complete resistance to any and all pain and peril. Even Marvel understood that superhumans had flaws and were susceptible to harm. But neither Hobbs nor Shaw suffers a scratch as they bound off buildings, take more hits than a tenderized steak and manage to pull down helicopters with their bare hands.
I understand that this may have been a hallmark of ‘80s action, but Leitch and company stick a little too close to the source. At one point, he has Johnson take a building jump similar to the very same one he mocked in “The Other Guys.” In that 2010 film, Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson leapt off a skyscraper and ended up as pudding on the sidewalk.
The only pudding left behind after two hours and 16 minutes of “Hobbs & Shaw” will be your brain, for better or worse.