How can anyone not love this: In 2015 Helen Mirren told a respectful interviewer that, yes, yes, all her Oscar-caliber roles were very nice but what she really wanted to do is cadge a role in a "Fast and Furious" movie with Vin Diesel.
Good for her. And here she is. The new F&F movie -- the eighth -- is called "The Fate of the Furious" and it's hilarious, boisterous, spectacular entertainment, American style. It's full of the automotive mayhem, flying bullets and bodies you expect and some jolliness you don't.
They half-heartedly tried to keep Dame Helen's participation in the rip-roaring new F&F a secret, but director F. Gary Gray couldn't help telling interviewers what a kick it was to work with her and so did co-star Luke Evans.
Word spread on the web. You can't blame them. If you're making a huge, zillion-dollar action fantasia in the most successful movie action series of our time and Dame Helen -- one of the most honored actresses in English-language movies -- confesses to God and everyone how much she'd love to be in your torque-fest, you probably would want to tell all your friends too.
Here's the best part: I can't tell you what her role is, but writer Chris Morgan did a canny job of figuring that out. And furthermore her role is part of a whole plot development worked out delightfully in a wild series of action scenes involving Jason Statham and one of the most adorable babies you've seen in movies in a while (with whom Statham, obviously, had giddy rapport. The infant seems to smile and giggle constantly looking at him, unlike the little one's solemnity with Vin Diesel).
The lunatic success of this exploding action series from its modest B-movie beginnings as the tale of outlaw L.A. street racers is one of those things that underline just how much we messed-up Americans still know about making action movies full of distressed hardware. We've just got it going on. Ask Dame Helen.
Whether it's a "Die Hard" fantasia or an "F&F" motor orgy, our big action stuff remains the world standard.
I worried a bit in the first 20 minutes that things had gone to seed. This eighth installment is funny and charming at the beginning but it showed signs of actors lobbying for star treatment. Toretto and Letty -- Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez -- spend their honeymoon in Havana so that Toretto can street race in a country where '50s American cars are apparently immortal.
And Dwayne Johnson, as Hobbs, is delightfully coaching his daughter's soccer team, the Pink Butterflies, in its committed rivalry with the Red Dragons.
A wee bit too much domesticity, I thought. And too much globe-trotting at first too, as a few more cities got involved. A third of the way through, everything settles into New York City and this eighth installment turns into one of the most satisfying of all F&F movies.
I wouldn't dream of claiming it's one of the best but individual pieces of it are as memorable as that super car, in the last one, that crashed through one skyscraper window in Dubai, flew through the air and then through a top floor window in the adjoining mile-high building.
You haven't lived at the movies until you've seen a car mayhem franchise where it literally "rains cars" onto New York streets i.e. cars in immense numbers spill out of the upper floors of many-tiered garages and crash onto city streets, thereby doing a number on traffic that even a computer-engineered traffic jam couldn't do.
Before it's over, our gang of street racer/government agents are racing nuclear submarines cutting through ice in Siberia.
The whole plot here is that our boy Toretto, whose dedication to family is nonpareil, is set up by an evil villain played by that other Oscar-winning newbie to the franchise, Charlize Theron. Theron's beauty, we've always known, is so extreme that you can do almost everything with her except pass her off as ordinary. Whether she's your cinematic Aphrodite, or Jezebel or Medusa, she's got it knocked.
Combine Jezebel and Medusa in this thing, where she plays Cipher, a computer mega-hacker who wants to gain nuclear launch codes and keep the world in line by periodic displays of her might. She's this movie's idea of Syria or North Korea.
She gets Toretto to help in her quest just by showing him something on her smart phone. Anyone who has ever seen a movie or a TV show will know immediately what it was but I must say, as the movie went on, the obvious was handled with a certain amount of invention and splash.
All the rest is marvelous mega-action in tribute to our deep-dish American love/hate relationship with the automobile, that monstrously powerful and dangerous and culture-defining machine that we all operate as safely as we can daily.
As always, we like the whole gang. Specific, off-the-wall honors this time go to former bad guy Statham and Tyrese Gibson, whose reaction to having to save the world in Siberia is to worry about "shrinkage" and whether he can outrace evil on an ice race in a Lamborghini. (The woman behind me scoffed "He can't get traction in THAT.")
My advice to other F&FR lovers everywhere is this: Put up with 20 minutes or so of marking time until it turns into one of the crazier and more delightful F&Fs yet.
"The Fate of The Furious"
3.5 stars (out of four)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Jason Statham, Michele Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Scott Eastwood
Director: F. Gary Gray
Running Time: 136 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for a lot of violence and destruction, some suggestive content and language
The Lowdown: Toretto is set up to go against his own gang by an evil harridan bent on world nuclear domination.