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By Vernor Rodgers
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One gauge of movies, particularly horror and action films, is THE BODY COUNT -- how many deaths that, often graphically, are shown in all their gory detail in a film. With the "Fast and Furious" franchise, now 20 years old and nine movies long, plus a spinoff, one wonders if there is anyone patient or anal enough to sift through all of these movies to come up a DEAD VEHICLE COUNT -- how many cars, trucks, minivans, SUVs and armored behemoths have been destroyed, mostly at the hands of Dom Torreto and his group, along with his adversaries. A lot of these vehicles are in the midst of the action, but the collateral damage of innocent ones parked on the streets to be rammed or crushed has to be astounding.

I doubt anyone back in 2001 would have guessed that "The Fast and Furious," which introduced us to Dom Torreto and his family and friends, would bloat to a movie series that likely will hit 10 in the next couple of years. Certainly Vin Diesel as Dom has gotten much more mileage (pun intended) out of this character than he has with Riddick and Xander Cage. Paul Walker, as Brian O'Connor, was propelled into the stratosphere also, until his death in an auto accident in 2013.

Dom's majestic trajectory from a street-wise East Los Angeles automotive genius / nearly unbeatable street racer to some sort of indestructible government operative has been a noisy and chaotic one that for moviergoers has been a fun, guilty-pleasure, grab-the-popcorn ride. Most of us go into an F&F film less interested in the plot than in the spectacular action scenes, along with curiosity as to how outrageous the adventures will get. Prior to viewing "F9" I was wondering how much further all this can go, sarkily speculating Dom and company may end up in outer space. Well, hello (not to be a spoiler here).

The plot is one I swear I have seen a few times before in this age of global technological engagement. Some bad guys, somehow well financed and backed by a highly trained and well-armed  version of Col. Kurtz's totally dedicated montagnard army a la "Apocaplypse Now," seeks some sort of device built by somebody with good intentions but later with regrets and fears that it can in the hands of the wrong people disable the world so dependent on the marvels of a digital universe.

Like we all knew there would be "F9" because Dom and company's adversary in 2017's "Fate of the Furious," Cipher (Charlize Theron) was not killed. And yes, she's back in some sort of strange arrangement in which she is being held captive by some rich, spoiled guy named Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), who has such intense daddy issues he seems to think conquering the world will cure that. But somehow Cipher really seems to be manipulating everything.

The grabber of "F9" is the revelation that Dom and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) had a brother named Jakob. He has family issues himself, resenting being in the shadow of big brother Dom and this seems to motivate him upon reaching adulthood (now played by perpetual World Wrestling Entertainment babyface John Cena) to become a super spy / operative who has gone rogue. Each time he one-ups Dom, which he does a few times in "F9" he likes to rub it in, suggesting that while Dom was a hotshot in a race car, he is outclassed by Jakob in the spy / black ops world.

The movie takes a few pauses in the madness to do a back story on why Jakob became alienated from the very tight-knit Toretto clan. Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole play the younger Dom and Jakob, respectively.

The other F&F stalwarts are here, including Brewster as Mia, Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Tyrese Gibson as Roman, Chris "Ludicris" Bridges as Tej and Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey. In addition, Lucas Black as Sean and Shad Moss as Twinkie from "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" make appearances. And it's only through movies that characters seemingly shown being killed somehow end up being alive, such as Sung Kang as Han, who supposedly fried to death in a burning auto in "Fast & Furious 6." As a bonus, the delightful Helen Mirren shows up for a cameo as Queenie.

"F9" is director Justin Lin's fifth turn at the helm of an F&F movie but his first as a co-writer of the script (with Daniel Casey). Lin seems to poking a little fun at the franchise in a scene wherein Roman, whose repartee with Tej provide humor in the movies, wonders how it is they have done all these perilous things over the years, escaping death and never getting so much as a scratch. It appears to be a wink-wink at the way out straining of reality in these movies.

The action scenes can be like paradise to those who enjoy seeing vehicles get destroyed -- going airborne, getting smashed into, blown up, flipped, machine-gunned, etc., etc. And of course, Dom and company seem to survive all this with maybe a few scratches and bruises, or as Roman points out after his scraps (getting shot at, beat up, bounced around in a vehicle during chases) that once again he has emerged with no injury. In a nice little scene of hand-to-hand and otherwise combat, the women -- Mia, Letty and Elle (Anna Sawi) -- a protege of Han's -- do some serious ass-kicking of a bunch of guys.

Really, we know that the sinister plans by Cipher, Otto and Jakob will be thwarted. The real conclusion  the viewers are waiting for is Dom vs. Jakob. How will that end up?

A 10th movie seems inevitable. Filmographies in IMDB of cast members list an F&F 10 as either "rumored" or being announced. And, as with the Marvel superheroes movies, there is a teaser interrupting the closing credits that features Jason Statham reprising his role as Hobbs.


Cassandra Peterson, who has delighted horror fans with her portrayal of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, has written a memoir titled "Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark." The book is set for publication Sept. 21 but word is pre-sales are available.

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