It’s only at this point in the “Fast and Furious” mythology, where a nuclear submarine has chased a Dodge Charger and Vin Diesel leaped off a muscle car to catch Michelle Rodriguez in mid-air across traffic, that Dwayne Johnson playing tug-of-war with a helicopter feels a little same-y.
The spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” (★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Friday), which features Johnson and Jason Statham's franchise fan favorites, definitely lives up to the “Fast & Furious Presents” in front of its title. But it’s also “Mission: Impossible” lite. And a buddy cop movie. And kind of a superhero film. In fact, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of action-hero testosterone – though the highlight is a woman – that gets lost trying to be its own thing.
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Ridiculously ripped lawman Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and surly British mercenary Deckard Shaw (Statham) are frenemies whose alliance has always been dicey in the past, so – shocker! – they’re not too pleased about being teamed up for a new mission by the CIA.
However, it quickly becomes personal for one of them: Deckard’s MI6 sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) is carrying a dangerous programmable bio virus in her body and she’s being hunted by genetically enhanced supervillain Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who works for the faceless master of the evil high-tech organization Eteon.
After tracking down Hattie, Hobbs and Shaw bicker and banter – the Brit calls him “She-Hulk,” Hobbs retorts by pointing out his partner’s “prepubescent, nasally Harry Potter voice.” But they of course get on the same page, traveling from London to Russia to Hobbs’ home in Samoa to save the world and take down Lore, a “black Superman” jacked up with his own internal space-age computer system.
Director David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Deadpool 2”) is an action guru in his element, first throwing the two-fisted heroes into a James Bond-style landscape of spy intrigue, but the engines really rev once they hit Samoa. It's there where “Hobbs & Shaw” finally embraces its “Fast and Furious” nature with vehicular mayhem and explosions aplenty, though not in any new or innovative way compared to the four-wheeled franchise's high bar for things going "boom" and "smash."
These movies also have always put an emphasis on family themes, and the spinoff misses chances to add emotional layers. Hobbs is estranged from his clan, Deckard and Hattie were once joined at the hip but now are essentially on opposite sides of the law, but all deal with their issues in frustratingly fleeting fashion – one yearns for the old heart-to-hearts between Diesel and the late Paul Walker in past “Fast” flicks.
Listen to this week's episode of USA TODAY's podcast, The Mothership, to hear our Film Critic's review of "Hobbs and Shaw" in the player below.
Johnson and Statham are fun to watch verbally tussle, though their chemistry shines best in group efforts, whether getting tortured by Brixton and his goons or teaming with Hattie. It's Kirby, though, who's the diamond in the rough-housing: She got to strut her physical side a little alongside Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” but comes into her own here as a cool superspy who stands out amid massive machismo.
“Hobbs & Shaw” checks all the boxes for the rousing, over-the-top ludicrousness you’d expect from a cinematic universe where there’s never been an abundance of believability. Still, Johnson inexplicably taking the time to put a shirt on in the middle of an action sequence with “Fury Road”-esque chop-shopped monstrosities tests the limits of that absurdity. (Maybe Hobbs knew it’d be windy tackling a chopper?)
But in trying to break free from being “Fast and Furious,” “Hobbs & Shaw” forgets to maintain the balance of insanity and heart that makes the series special.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Hobbs and Shaw' review: The Rock, Jason Statham lack 'Furious' punch