Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ isn’t too smart, but it is an effective action movie

(Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, left) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) face a small army of gunmen in a scene from "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw," directed by David Leitch.

One shouldn’t go into “Hobbs & Shaw” — officially, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” for those who can’t get enough ampersands — expecting a mental chess match or clever plotting or Shakespearean acting.

No, “Hobbs & Shaw” is a meat-and-potatoes — or should that be “meat & potatoes”? — action movie, with more cars than a Hot Wheels set, more guns than an army shooting range, and more body slams than star Dwayne Johnson threw in his entire wrestling career.

Johnson returns as Luke Hobbs, the L.A.-based super cop who has been battling Vin Diesel for custody of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise since the fifth installment in 2011. When we first see Hobbs this time, he’s sharing a split screen with his nemesis from the last two films, British ex-spy and assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Both of them are punching and kicking their way through the usual den of iniquity with dancing girls in the front and mob types in the back. And that’s just the appetizer.

Director David Leitch, (“Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2”) handles these kinds of fight scenes easily, cutting quickly and energetically to get the fists, feet and guns all at the precise points of impact. Leitch, it’s handy to remember, got his start as a stunt coordinator on “John Wick,” and few directors handle action with sharper impact.

Oh, but then people have to talk, and that’s where things get messy in a patchwork script by Chris Morgan (who has been writing “F&F” movies since No. 3, “Tokyo Drift”) and Drew Pearce (“Hotel Artemis”). The CIA needs Hobbs and Shaw to work together to retrieve a deadly super-virus that could kill a large chunk of humanity. The thief, supposedly, is a rogue British intelligence agent — who happens to be Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, who played Princess Margaret in “The Crown”).

What we know, and the characters figure out, is that Hattie is being set up by the real villain, a part-mechanical, part-human wrecking crew called Brixton, played by Idris Elba. Brixton, who has some bad blood with Shaw, is working now as a super-soldier for an all-powerful biotech conglomerate whose unseen Director wants to use the super-virus to cull humanity down a few billion.

Leitch and the script move briskly from London to Moscow — where Shaw has a connection with a lingerie-clad arms dealer (Eiza González), because nothing makes sense here — to Samoa, which brings Hobbs home to his estranged family. Yes, even without Vin Diesel around, this franchise likes to beat the audience over the heads with the importance of “family.”

The action is outrageous, of course, but slickly handled. It’s the comedy that falls flat, between the not-so-clever augmented reality of Brixton’s high-tech fighting — does he really need a computer screen to flash “attack imminent” when Statham’s fist is coming near his face? — and the stream of insults between the two leads. When that’s not enough yuks, the movie stops the story dead with a couple of big-name comic cameos (who will remain unnamed) that go on uncomfortably long.

But, as is obvious from start to finish, “Hobbs & Shaw” isn’t a movie built for detailed intellectual parsing. It’s a big, loud, dumb explode-a-thon, and on those own limited ambitions, it fills the bill.


★★ ½

“Fast & Furious Present: Hobbs & Shaw”

Dwayne Johnson throw punches and one-liners with equal force and finesse, in an action movie that works if one doesn’t think about it.

Where • Theaters everywhere

When • Opens Friday, Aug. 2

Rated • PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language.

Running time • 135 minutes