It says a lot about Hobbs & Shaw's title characters that, even as a bona fide fan of the Fast & Furious films, I still would find myself occasionally forgetting everyone's names during this movie. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the official full title for this, the first spinoff of the big car movies, but everything that makes for a good, dumb studio movie has been stripped for parts here. This is a great-looking vehicle from afar, but pop open the hood, and there's an entire, necessary engine missing.
Dwayne Johnson is the titular Hobbs, by the way. I don't know why the powers-that-be decided on giving one of the world's most striking-looking men the character name of Luke Hobbs; he sounds like someone who should be tripping into a fountain in a Netflix romcom, but here we are. Jason Statham is Deckard Shaw, a reformed cockney gangster with a cool sister (Vanessa Kirby) and a baller "mum" (Helen Mirren) who, unfortunately, only shows up for about three minutes.
The lead pair, who clashed in a good scene in 2017's The Fate of the Furious, get a whole film to bicker this time around, which is where this stale movie's failings first become apparent: These characters are awful at working together, and not in the fun mismatched-duo way as the film scripts it. Johnson's and Statham's respective innate charisma seem to negate each other, like the same ends of a magnet repelling each other whenever they near; the first hour of the film is a barrage of underwritten one-liners and insults hurled at each other. You'll lose count, for instance, of the number of crude jokes, and, worse, the same exact joke is used at different points in the movie, to diminishing effect.
It's disappointingly easy to get sick of these guys before the plot even kicks in. And oh yeah, the plot: this is your standard "save the world from a zealot baddie" deal, only this baddie is Idris Elba as a bio-mechanical terrorist with metal bones and a Terminator-style chip in his head that gives him a heads-up display of the speed of the punch coming at his noggin. Elba actually does good work here, considering he's either talking to the film's mismatched leads or a blank white wall which functions as his boss's preferred method of communication.
With the film's lack of any clear personality tying it to one of the best and most lucrative guilty pleasure series going at the moment—and these out-of-left-field sci-fi touches cluttering up what little fun that's left—it's easy to imagine this was birthed from, simply, a script found somewhere in the archives at Universal which got dusted off and treated with some Mad-Libs style filling of the blanks. Hobbs has a heretofore-unseen daughter that forces him to reconnect with his estranged family in the film's third act. Kirby's Hattie Shaw is a welcome addition, but the screenplay makes no use of her talents, instead settling for a mostly blank slate of the "badass woman in action movie who makes the dudes look dumb" template. There is, of course, a prominent A-list character reveal at the very end, too. I assume we're meant to wait until Fast 9 to figure out why we should care.
The overlong action sequences, too, are sucked of any real threat or flair or fun. John Wick director David Leitch seems hamstrung by the expectations of bigger-budget fight scenes, where dozens of punches can land without so much as a bruise, and glass windows/ceilings are either hyper-reinforced or made of little candy paper for babies, depending on whatever the script calls for at any particular moment. The big finale, last-stand fight in Samoa, which begins with Hobbs's family performing the Haka, is a touch better, but by then your brain will be so numbed to the possibility of any wonder in this grey, repetitive film it still mostly registers as just pixels on a screen.
The least Hobbs & Shaw could be, if it's going to go for this lowbrow, low-effort filmmaking is an entertaining mess, but its tidiness actively works against it here. This is a shiny thing polished to within an inch of its life; in the grand pantheon of Fast & Furious movies, it will be remembered as the slowest and most sterile of the lot.