Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson in F9 (Photo: Universal)

★★ (out of four)
STARS Vin Diesel, John Cena

It’s proving to be particularly irksome that Universal Pictures didn’t snatch up my suggested title for the ninth entry in their deathless The Fast and the Furious franchise. The moniker F9 is especially dreary when compared to my, ahem, brilliant idea of So Nine, So Fine, So Furious, and with even just a commission of .0001% from the series profits to date, I could have spent the rest of my days in the lifestyle to which I have yet to become accustomed. Alas, ‘twas not meant to be, which means that instead of owning beachfront property, I’ll have to continue wasting time covering mediocre movies like F9.

The idling nature of the franchise starts with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) yammering for the zillionth time about the importance of “family” yet never having bothered to mention to anyone that — surprise! — he and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster, long the series’ fifth wheel) have a brother. That would be Jakob (John Cena), who reenters his siblings’ lives by forming an uneasy alliance with their sworn enemy, the murderous Cypher (returning — and wasted — Charlize Theron). It turns out everyone is after a McGuffin-esque device known as Aries, and the search leads Dom to his old buddy Han (Sung Kang). No, Han isn’t a zombie — although he was seemingly killed during the end credits scene of Fast & Furious 6, it turns out that his death was faked by the enigmatic Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who actually didn’t turn up in the series until Furious 7 (keep up, people).

John Cena in F9 (Photo: Universal)

It’s not just Han returning to the fold. It’s Old Home Week in this installment, with the filmmakers frantically digging up secondary characters left and right — even ones from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift waaaay back in 2006. Conversely, among the new characters is one played by Cardi B — she’s not there for any discernible reason other than to allow writer-director Justin Lin to brag that he got Cardi B to appear in his picture.

Comic-relief characters Roman and Tej are of course on hand, portrayed as always by Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. In a sign of the franchise’s fervent desire to keep topping itself by all moronic means necessary, Roman and Tej at one point climb into a “rocket car” and are sent on a mission into outer space. “Ludacris,” indeed. In my review of the previous installment, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, I wrote that the movie “swip[es] a page or 10 from the James Bond playbook.” F9 continues that tradition by using the 007 adventure Moonraker as its inspiration, only instead of Bond battling Hugo Drax and Jaws, our heroes here have to take down Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos (well, one wishes).

Word is that Universal plans to make two more F&F installments before calling it quits. But with this franchise relying more than ever on the same tired character beats, the same recycled car stunts, and ever more preposterous plot developments, it’s clear that this is one series that’s already running on fumes.

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