‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Review: Rock-em-Sock-em Bromance

‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Review: Rock-em-Sock-em Bromance


The people who made “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” know that Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw) have an easy adversarial chemistry. They build the movie around their put-downs and pranks. Statham stays focused on how Johnson’s size makes him seem kind of dumb and unsubtle. And Johnson picks on what an indecipherably British hobbit Statham is. At some point, Hobbs gets a load of Shaw’s stable of sports cars and asks if he’s, uh, overcompensating.

Seems right for two people — an American agent and an English mercenary — who spent an exciting sequence at the top of the seventh “Fast & Furious” movie throwing each other through glass windows and designer office furniture. This spinoff is more of the same. But, written by Chris Morgan, who’s handled most of the “Fast & Furious” movies, and Drew Pearce, it weighs less and seems to know that, too. David Leitch directed it, and the fights and chases achieve a kind of smooth brutality that makes sense for the maker of “Atomic Blonde” and the second “Deadpool” and who had a hand in the first “John Wick.” It has a good hip-hop soundtrack and the sort of coherent editing that you need for something with this much juxtaposed bone-breaking. The weightlessness, however, extends to a plot that makes no sense, and involves an extinction-level virus that Shaw’s intelligence-agent sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), has heroically injected into herself and that doesn’t at all diminish her agility, wit or capacity for flirtation.

The filmmakers so want to maintain the joshing between Johnson and Statham that the movie’s ostensible action label and the lust Shaw fears Hobbs has for his sister feel like pretexts for the romantic comedy “Hobbs & Shaw” virtually is. Idris Elba plays the movie’s biomechanically enhanced supervillain, and not that far into things, he wonders aloud who’s going to stop him. So, for an answer, there’s a cut to a split screen of Johnson and Statham in their respective beds. Each is going about his day — waking up, eating, exercising, taking phone calls simultaneously with the exact same response. “Jinx!” I thought to myself.

With the screen split, their bald heads — Johnson’s is smooth, Statham’s stubbled — are often inches from each other. And over the course of the movie, the tension between these two has so escalated amid the downpour of virility that by the time they’re on a plane arguing, again, over the sister (“I’m gonna let her climb this mountain. Over. And over”) those bald heads are all but knocking into each other. I was torn. Was the right response, “Get a room” or “Here’s a scrotum”?

It’s serious enough between them that anytime the movie presents alternative partnerships in the form of cameos by other, more naturally funny male stars, Hobbs and Shaw decline. This relationship is closed! And that gives a ridiculous sensuality to the climactic three-way beat-down and the way the frame speed decelerates enough for every punched face and kicked head to seem like a caress, as if they were Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze at her pottery wheel in “Ghost.”

None of that makes “Hobbs & Shaw” better. It doesn’t save the movie from a saggy setup for the showdown, in Samoa, between Elba’s anonymous paramilitary goons and Hobbs’s mostly anonymous Samoan family.

Estrangement is the movie’s big theme — Shaw hasn’t seen his sister in ages, and Hobbs swore he’d never go back to that island (meaning his smart 9-year-old daughter has never met her formidable grandmother). The movie doesn’t care about the strains in these relationships, so why strain them? Nothing changes if Hobbs and his brother (Cliff Curtis) are on good speaking terms. They’d still assemble dozens of their siblings and cousins for the finale’s assorted phases. They’d still figure out how to affix a bunch of trucks to a flying chopper. It’s just more pretext.

The whole thing just makes me miss how horny and violent movies used to be. Here, all the violence is sex. Only, it’s not. It’s just winking. That chastity is a quiet lament in the buddy movie likely to be playing across the hall from this one, Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”

That film has a lot to mourn, including the idea that sex has gone out of the movies. At some point, Tarantino shows us a coming attraction for Joe Namath and Ann-Margret in “C.C. and Company,” a loud, dumb, fun motorcycle romp from 1970 in which all Namath does is tussle, drive and, with her, fool around. A movie like that portended 20 years of action-thrillers that also had a libido. The women didn’t always fare well, but nobody feared sex. That was as omnipresent as smoking and guns.

We don’t believe in the sex anymore. All we’ve got now is the guns. When “Hobbs & Shaw” whisks everybody to a Moscow mansion stocked with sexy thieves and Shaw walks in and plants one right on the ringleader (Eiza González), Hobbs and the sister look on in horror. We’re grossed out, too. He is overcompensating.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Rated PG-13. Kicking, shooting and punching — but the harmless, bloodless cartoon kind. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.



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