Fast X is an incredibly dumb time at the movies. Not just in an F9 “they took a car to space” kind of dumb (there’s also plenty of that, which is fine), but in a more fundamental Fate of the Furious “why did they name the baby Brian like he’s not still alive?” kind of way. There’s always room for big, dumb entertainment at the multiplex, especially the kind of pure, mind-numbing escapism at which this improbable billion-dollar franchise has excelled. Since the franchise apex of Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 it’s hard not feeling the constant drag of diminishing returns. An ever-evolving cast of regulars starts to feel like too much baggage even for this family––especially when they don’t even stay dead or are treated as goners even though they’ve just “retired.” A great summer actioner can be big and dumb, but it can’t also be clunky. Thankfully, Fast newcomer Louis Letterier, ever a big-dumb-movie workman, siphons enough goofy energy from some of his previous blockbusters to inject some verve back into this lumbering series.

As perhaps the first in the Fast Saga to go harder on camp than any previous entry, Fast X finds its groove most when fully surrendering to it––whether you’re laughing with or at it, it’s certainly never boring. Much of that is thanks to Jason Momoa shaking things up as Dante, the big bad who’s been retconned in, with exquisite scrunchies and nail polish, as the son of Fast Five’s Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). He’s on a warpath of revenge for the death of his father. In truly remarkable fashion (literally), Momoa barrels through Dom’s machismo and muscle-bound platitudes on faith and family with a garish chaos both on and off the page.

Every line is a big swing, and with all the bluster of a WWE villain is Momoa clearly enjoying himself so much that it can’t help but rub off. Diesel continues feeling more like a heavy center of gravity than an actual leading man. He’s been smart enough to know these films have only been as good as their brolic antagonists as of late, which explains his laborious turn as villain in Fate, or John Cena’s wholly unconvincing menace in F9. It’s worth noting that X’s reliance on Cena for his more cuddly demeanor is a canny choice. A course-correct from Momoa’s Indochino psychopath is certainly refreshing, especially when the only character beats Diesel could convincingly muster are about his (very much alive) friend Brian, who Dom eulogizes like he’s been dead since, say, 2015.

The maximum effect of Momoa’s potency amidst this is both a bit much and not nearly enough. It’s hard not sensing every other member of this storied ensemble is extremely tired by comparison, held in a state of arrested development by their overlord Vin Diesel. The man has kept them paid for well over a decade, to be sure, but when they get brief moments to shine there’s a tinge of lamentation with the exhilaration. Some of the best action beats serve more as a reminder of all the great solo work they (i.e. Rodriguez, Theron, Statham) could have been doing the last ten years outside the realm of NOS and Coronas. It doesn’t entirely help matters that certain setpieces play perfunctory rather than motivated. Rodriguez and Theron resort to fisticuffs not because the story demands it, but because the fans do. Although it is a finely crafted brawl, and one of Fast X‘s better moments, it’s a literal distraction prompted by one of them amidst much more pressing matters, hindering character rather than servicing it.

Leterrier does have a command for the bigger splashes, though, and the marquee centerpiece––featuring Dom playing some real-life Rocket League across Rome with a neutron bomb––is certainly more playful than anything in the previous two outings. These films have relied on video game logic for so many years that it’s shocking it took them this long to directly rip one off. Unfortunately, some of the most impressive bombast consists of moments already heavily featured throughout its promotion; Letty doing a bit of hopscotch on a motorcycle or Dom hauling two helicopters to the pavement loses a bit of its unabashed popcorn oomph.

Despite it all, there are actual jokes that land (aside from the usual Tyrese clownery) and an uptick in gonzo energy the Fast films have been thirsting for. All told, Fast X is an improvement on its recent predecessors and perfectly welcome as distracting summer fare, but whether or not it will stall before the end of the road remains to be seen.

Fast X is now in theaters.

Grade: C+

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