Using the word “dumb” to describe a film is often seen as degrading. Who wants to see a movie that’s “dumb,” and who would even make a “dumb” movie? What is often lost in translation when a film is given such a seemingly pejorative nickname is the skill that goes into making a “dumb” film. In order to make a great movie where audiences can turn their brains off and happily clap, it takes some true genius behind the scenes. Top Gun is an insane film filled with ridiculous one-liners, borderline unintentional homoerotic undertones, and some of the most superficially tacky choices in populist cinema. It also happens to be one of the greatest films ever made (I will die on that hill). While not necessarily perfect, by any means, the Fast and Furious spinoff Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (and yes, that ostentatious title is its actual name) manages to tap into that same energy to create one of the year’s most entertaining films. By using its brain to create dumb, it has demonstrated just how fun it can be to turn your noggin off at the movies.
The world is in danger. A supervirus known as “Snowflake” has recently been stolen by MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) in a desperate attempt to escape terrorist Brixton Lore (Idris Elba). A former rogue agent thought dead, Lore is now back with a vengeance, fitted with cybernetic implants that have turned him into a literal supervillain. With only 48 hours before the virus kills Hattie and infects the entire world, the British and American governments call in the only men who can save the day: DDS bounty hunter Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and former MI6 mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). There’s just one problem: these two hate each other. And so, armed with only their bare muscles, a cadre of one-liners, and an arsenal of secrets, Hobbs, Shaw, and Hattie must set out to save the world and maybe, just maybe, learn a thing or two about Family.
There is a key difference between dumb movies and stupid movies, and while it may not be discernable to the Average Joe Moviegoer, it makes a world of difference to the overall product. A stupid film lacks a layer of irony, and doesn’t understand why it’s idiotic moments don’t work. A dumb film, however, is fully aware of how bizarre its plot is, and embraces it wholeheartedly. A stupid film features giant robots punching each other; a dumb film has surfing bank robbers dressed as former U.S. Presidents, or John Travolta and Nicolas Cage switching faces. Hobbs & Shaw, more than anything else, draws from this sense of mid-90s testosterone-fueled of films like Point Break, Face/Off, and more. And just like Kathryn Bigelow, John Woo, and other action auteurs, Hobbs & Shaw pushes the ridiculous without insulting its viewers. This is the type of film that’s supposedly set in the real world, and in which our protagonists utilize electric bullets, robot soldiers, and can jump out of planes without parachutes. It’s the type of film where our heroes are such manly men they must take out their aggression on their opponents’ groins, resulting in multiple nut shots. It’s the type of film where several minutes of a 140-minute runtime are spent on dumb jokes involving dragging literally every villain up to a retinal scanner in the hopes things will work, and in which Dwayne Johnson remains oblivious to the chaos behind him to chat with his daughter, who performs The Eyebrow over the phone to him. It is especially the film to throw in Chevrolet Product Placement at all the wrong times, and have it turn out in all the right ways.
And at the heart of all this insanity is Idris Elba’s bad guy. I’m sorry, let me try that again: Idris Elba’s half-human, half-robot bad guy. I’m sorry, let me try that again: Idris Elba’s half-human, half-robot bad guy who can catch bullets and controls the media. I’m sorry, that’s still not right. Let me try it one more time: Idris Elba’s half-human, half-robot bad guy who can catch bullets, controls the media, and states, when confronted with the catastrophic effects of his scheme, “Genocide Shmenocide.” I don’t know who wrote this ridiculous, dumb, terrible, wonderful line between Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, but it’s the level of commitment I respect in my dumb summer entertainment. But beyond all that, this is a film that wants us to know our action heroes may be ridiculous figments of our imaginations, but dammit if we don’t have an active imaginary life. The film pulls no punches in showing Hobbs jump out a window while Shaw takes the elevator, miming the jerk-off motion at him as he goes. It allows us time to see The Rock in hilarious normal people clothes sporting the Statham-chosen alias “Mike Oxmaul.” And by the time we reach the finale, the laws of physics are so taken for granted that a series of cars locks together to pull down a helicopter, and the only way it’ll work is if Dwayne Johnson literally pulls on the chain with his bare hands. None of this should work. None of it technically does work. But because a dumb film embraces the stupidity of its premise and invites the audience to join along, any shortcomings the film may have are wiped clean, accepted as a part of a wild ride.
The main reason we are so willing to cast aside the laws of physics and embrace our suspension of disbelief is simple: we, as audience members, like Hobbs, Shaw, and Hobbs and Shaw together. Their brand of silliness, childishness, and superhuman abilities is so ridiculous as to challenge us as viewers, and yet Johnson and Statham are so charismatic, it somehow works. When we first meet Hobbs, he’s flirting while torturing a drug dealer and enjoying “cheat day” at a diner with his daughter – which, due to his massive size, is a plate of 15 full-sized pancakes. Shaw, meanwhile, dodges grenades and dangles men out of windows without ruffling his fashionable suit or failing to bed a fair maiden (whom he always cooks breakfast for before leaving). The duo works inside the world of the film for two reasons: how they work, and how they work together. The funniest parts of the film come in the litany of ways the filmmakers try to prove that these two are the Übermensch – as proven when Hobbs quotes Nietzche when called “just a lot of muscle,” then proceeds to flex. The two are the perfect fighters, the perfect quippers, the perfect philosophers, the perfect drinkers…hell, the film even takes a side tangent to prove that, despite what one may expect, the two are also the perfect feminists. Yeah, you read that right. And in a series that has become notorious for its lead actors refusing to lose fights, the fact that they only manage to defeat Brixton (if this is a spoiler for you, you don’t know how movies work) by letting him beat them up as a means of teamwork is both hilarious and a smart f*ck you to their critics. These two are so cool, they somehow make the film’s dorkiest sentiments (“You may believe in machines, but we believe in people!”) sound cool. Hobbs and Shaw loves its protagonists, and we love them in return.
In fact, the only thing better about these two is the animosity they share for each other. Since becoming enemies in Furious 7, these two have loathed each other, and by putting them together, the filmmakers have allowed us an opportunity to witness 135 minutes of what the Furious films had previously done for 30: let these two fight. Johnson and Statham have an innate ability to deliver ridiculous insults, and it comes to a head in a two-minute sequence when they first interact onscreen. The rest of the film is a rat-a-tat surrounding who’s stronger, who’s the better fighter, who’s more handsome, and who can deliver a more scathing version of “You’ve got a small d*ck.” And it works marvelously. We watch as they put the fate of the world in jeopardy time and time again to fight over who gets shotgun in a helicopter, who can beat up more guys, who gets to fight Idris Elba, and who is more manly – Hobbs is so convinced it’s him he lets himself get electrocuted three of a lethal five times just to have the opportunity to insult Shaw some more. It’s a dynamic that’s been seen before in film, in one way or another: Lethal Weapon’s Murtaugh and Riggs, The Nice Guys’ Healy and March, 48 Hours’ Jack and Reggie, and Tango and Cash. And yet, as Hobbs and Shaw proves, so long as the dialogue is rich, the action is taut, and the story doesn’t get in the way of its protagonists, we don’t really care. And that’s ok.
Of course, one of the key reasons Hobbs and Shaw survives its own ridiculousness is because of the direction the “smart” filmmaking decisions that go along with it. Like most great cheesy action films, Hobbs and Shaw leans hard enough into its own ridiculousness that it makes the thrilling action much stronger. In fact, around the end of the first act, I wrote down in my journal to find out who directed the film, because it had the creativity of John Wick, but the irreverence of Deadpool. As it turns out, both guesses were right – director David Leitch worked on both films. Leitch leans into a sense of whimsy throughout, starting with a split screen introduction set to a Yungblood cover of “Time In A Bottle.” We see Hobbs framed in a warm orange as he works out and eats raw eggs, while Shaw is framed in a cool, relaxing blue as he cooks for his one-night stand. The film also knows how to follow story structure to a T: it sets up sibling issues for both its leads that get resolved in 130 minutes, jokes introduced early on (i.e. the scams the Shaws ran as children) pay off in the finale, and the characters learn the importance of teamwork by the end (yes, the plot of this movie is two grown men learning about teamwork). The filmmaking itself is impressive, including a shot that wowed me involving Statham and Kirby flipping through the air in a Jeep. And in a final act that seems directly written for me, we see the protagonists throw away their guns, eliminate their enemies’ weapons, and engage in a spectacular siege battle armed only with their brains, brawn, and ancient Samoan weapons. A finale focused on brute strength and strategy? Be still my heart. Now, the film itself isn’t perfect. The film still thinks it’s a Fast and the Furious entry, and therefore useless and unimpressive car chases stolen from Baby Driver are shoehorned in throughout. The film is too long, with a finale that feels too dragged out. And the film’s greatest asset is also its greatest flaw: by having our protagonists be perfect men, with the best one-liners, the prettiest girls, the biggest muscles, and an inability to lose a fight, any stakes raised by the plot can only be maintained for a certain length of time. But at the end of the day, my feelings towards these flaws are the same as my feelings for the plot’s inconsistencies: who cares?
In terms of the performances, this is the type of film that’s hard to categorize. While none of these performances are “good” in the sense of Olivier, Li, or Hepburn, but they are perfect for this genre. Jason Statham is a one-man quip machine, cornering the market he created with his smarmy cockney criminal shtick. He’s clever, with perfect line delivery and timing. Meanwhile, Johnson counters Statham’s quips with his physical presence. Johnson knows how to make his body a punchline, whether he’s catching things thrown at him, putting his abnormally large body on a commercial jet while complimenting a woman’s babushka, or just trying to wear a stealth suit. The two know exactly how to play these characters, and it’s a delight to see them together playing to their own strengths. Vanessa Kirby proves herself to be a star, holding her own against the titular men (and perhaps even surpassing them?) and making herself a one-woman reaction shot machine, a la Martin Freeman. Idris Elba has a blast playing an over-the-top villain, milking every dumb, cheesy line like “I’m Black Superman!” Eiza González enjoys a terrific small performance as a criminal mastermind, while Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart enjoy hilariously chatty cameos at the heart of it all (Reynolds’ bit as an agent obsessed with Hobbs is pretty spectacular). In one of my favorite performances in the film, Lori Pelenise Tuisano gives a funny, loving turn as Sefina Hobbs, Johnson’s mother, which is definitely as close to a truly great performance as this film comes. And speaking of mothers, Helen Mirren shows up for a quick cameo, just to remind everyone that a) she is capable of having fun, and b) Helen Mirren is in the Fast and the Furious series.
Hobbs and Shaw is the reason why dumb action movies are so fun. It has taken the formula of films past and managed to boil it down to its core essence in all the right ways. Leitch, Morgan, and Pearce have managed to create the platonic ideal of idiocy for their audience: pushing the boundaries of dumb in terms of action, one-liners, and scenarios, while carefully avoiding stepping over the line and losing their audience. It embraces creativity in ways most action films would never dream to do. And at the end of the day, it reminds us why we like going to the movies in the summer: to escape the humdrum existence of the world around us for two hours and fifteen minutes in an air-conditioned vault. I’m not saying we should stop making art. I’m just saying that sometimes a bowl of ice cream is the perfect complement to filet mignon.