Hobbs and Shaw treat each other like they're annoying impostors who wandered into their own action flicks. As they grudgingly work together to save the world, they're harder on each other than they are any of the faceless villains.
Boiled down to its essence, "Hobbs & Shaw" is really just an excuse for Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham to swap insults for two hours, filled out with minimal plot, explosions and fight scenes to stretch it to feature-film length.
Fans of buddy action flicks of the 80s and 90s, such as "Lethal Weapon," "Tango & Cash," "48 Hrs." and "Midnight Run" will be right at home here.
The "Fast and Furious" franchise spinoff wisely eschews the feel of the mainline movies to establish its own tone and rhythm. Both Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) are egotistical alpha males who won't give an inch to the other. Neither acknowledges the other's worth, laughs at the other's jokes or lends a hand.
Beneath all the bluster is a grudging respect, and maybe even brotherly love. But to admit any soft-hearted emotions such as appreciation or empathy would be to back down, and neither has that chromosome in their DNA.
"Hobbs & Shaw" is at its best when its stars are going at each other in their merciless insult exchanges, and is at its second best when its surprise scene-stealing celebrity cameos change up the dynamic. It's not so great when it tries to do the routine action flick thing, with boilerplate shootouts, car chases and things getting dangled out windows.
Poor Idris Elba is the odd man out here, as generic villain Brixton Lore, a cyborg harbinger of the apocalypse. Humorless and stiff, there's nothing much to do but stand around with a scowl and be a witless punching bag. Vanessa Kirby, as mysterious super spy Hattie, fares much better, joining Hobbs and Shaw as a welcome buffer between the overwhelming testosterone.
The shoehorned-in story is just an excuse to pair the frenemies in an effort to stop a technologically-enhanced supervirus from rampaging throughout the world. How do you stop a supervirus? Apparently by bashing in bad guys' heads, throwing them through doors and uttering catch-phrases after landing improbable jumps or halting ludicrous car chases.
On balance, though, there is far more here that distinguishes the movie from generic action movie blahs than there is to lump it in with the others. There is the kernel of something special here.
There's nary a mention of any other events in "Fast and Furious" flicks, which is just as well. The film is wholly calibrated to launch "Hobbs & Shaw" as a brand all its own, and the film is a nox-boosted, pedal-slamming launch in that direction.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.