‘The Fate of the Furious’ sputters across the finish line

Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in “The Fate of the Furious”
Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in “The Fate of the Furious” Universal

Discounting any movie with cars that turn into robots, they don’t come much bigger and louder and dumber than the “Fast and Furious” movies.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s fun to visit a turbo-charged, Prius-free world where the laws of physics, not to mention all traffic regulations, are merely a suggestion.

But the laws of being an outrageously successful but aging Hollywood franchise can’t be escaped. “The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth installment in what started out as B-movie escapism back in 2001 and mushroomed into a phenomenon, has everything the franchise’s fans crave and moments that are still a heck of a lot of fun.

Yet as the big climax roars through what’s supposed to be a frosty Siberia (it’s actually Iceland) with stunts that try to outdo what’s been done before, it’s hard not to feel that the whole thing might be on thin ice.

Beyond the fast cars, big muscles and barely clad women, the “F&F” films have been about one thing: family. This multiracial crew of careening crime fighters may not have much in terms of blood relatives but they have always been righteously ride-or-die for each other.

That was especially true in the last film, “Furious 7,” with its sweet farewell to late actor Paul Walker, who played the beloved character Brian.

This time out, director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) and writer Chris Morgan (who has written six of the “F&F” films) play with that concept by turning Dom (Vin Diesel) into a rogue agent in the employ of the dastardly terrorist/hacker/villain called Cipher. (Though this territory had been toyed with in “F&F 6” when Dom’s love interest Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, went to the dark side.)

Now, Cipher has hatched some nefarious plan to take over the world by stealing a secret weapon from the Germans as well as the Russian nuclear codes. She needs someone of Dom’s driving skills and she tracks him down in Cuba where he’s leading a life of tropical bliss with Letty.

She makes him an offer he can’t refuse and then, bang, it’s on. The rest of the crew and their allies in the feds — Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), and new addition Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) — now have to hunt Cipher as well as one of their own.

Cipher is so evil that the good guys even need to recruit the bad guy from the last movie, Deckard (Jason Statham), to be on their side.

Of course, none of it matters as it’s all just an excuse to show off speeding cars in exotic locations. The opening chase through the cluttered streets of Havana is a hoot (that sound you just heard? Yeah, that’s Fidel spinning in his grave like a blender).

The humor has also been cranked up a notch, thanks to the biting, and often very funny, back and forth between frenemies Hobbs and Deckard. Not to mention, there’s the continued need for Roman to prove his worth as both a ladies’ man and a hero.

Yet as the movie lumbers on, it becomes increasingly frustrating. While the stunts involving a huge wrecking ball, “zombie” driverless cars on a rampage, and a nuclear sub are huge, none is as impressive as some of the big moments of the past. There’s nothing as jaw-dropping as the last movie’s cars leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper set piece or the chase with a tank in “Furious 6.”

“The Fate of the Furious” is a comedown from the gas-fume highs of the last three films, easily the best movies in the series. While it’s far too soon to say that the franchise is running on empty, it looks like someone has been putting water in the fuel tank.

Cary Darling: 817-390-7571, @carydar

The Fate of the Furious

(out of five)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron

Rated: PG-13 (prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and strong language)

Running time: 136 min.