I’d never considered how attractive bald action stars are until watching the latest, thrilling Fast and the Furious installment, The Fate of the Furious. Yes, plenty of people with hair star in this movie (the main cast is so big it would be statistically unlikely for all of them to be bald), but the eighth entry in the franchise definitely offers a remarkably dense concentration of bald action stars in one film: Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (Tyrese too, but while he is bald, he is not “action.”)
Maybe it’s a cumulative effect of watching all three of them in one film, or maybe it’s all of their inspirational “saddle up, men” speeches, or maybe it’s the hours-long exposure to these many bulbous, sweaty, glimmering heads talking, driving, and smiling, but I’m in. Bald men in action movies are it.
“It’s because they look like penises,” offered a friend. She continued, “Everything in that movie is a penis.”
Everything in The Fate of the Furious is a penis: This is true, if you stop and think about it. The bald actors, obviously, are basically talking penises. Even more obviously, cars — perhaps America’s favorite phallic stand-in — are penises, not to mention all the close-up shots of the engines and the pistons going into whatever engine hole they go into. The prominently featured submarine is just a huge one. And if you’re really going for it, even the soundtrack, all throbbing beats and pulsating EDM, acts as sort of an aural penis: thrusting, thrusting, thrusting.
Now, one could observe all this and see a towering monument to masculinity, an entire multimillion dollar franchise created solely for the purposes of “overcompensating.” That’s not totally wrong, but that’s not all it is. Because, upon closer inspection, there is really little difference between this sea of peen, and another beloved sea of peen: the romance novel.
Think of what makes a grocery-store bodice-ripping romance novel a romance novel — like the Outlander series, Fifty Shades of Grey, or anything by V. C. Andrews. It’s predictable and juicy, has a loyal fanbase that reliably keeps coming back to the predictable, juicy well. The story is about the love between people (usually just two, but hey, everyone on Tinder is in an open relationship now) and always resolves itself in a simple and happy ending. Did I not just describe any entry in the The Fast and the Furious franchise, except for maybe Tokyo Drift? In theory, the plot of Fate is about driving cars real fast, Vin Diesel going rogue, and a nefarious cyberpunk villain (Charlize Theron). But just like a romance novel, it’s really about the love between people, and, non-spoiler alert, how love conquers all, even a nuclear-bomb detonation.
Sure, that love between the Fast family as presented is seemingly a bro-mantic, ride-or-die family type of love. In fact, Director F. Gary Gray tried to trick us all into believing it’s nonsexual by making everyone keep their shirts on (including Scott Eastwood, which, c’mon, the rule of Chekov’s gun applies here) and dazzling us with overtly sexual plays for the male gaze, i.e., so much underbutt it’s like you’re at a Chainsmokers concert. But really, The Fate of the Furious follows the most important tenet of romance novels: The dialogue and plot and character development are just vehicles for an undercurrent of erotic charges.
Take, for example, the Rock’s catchphrase from the franchise: “Daddy’s gotta go to work.” Innocent seeming, right? The line just plays to the fact that the Rock is family-friendly, while also muscle-y. And the line is usually delivered just before he does something cool, like getting in a big-ass truck and driving it onto a plane and then flying that plane to some sort of army base where he and the squad can heroically kill a bunch of vaguely Eastern European enemies and save the world. But we all know what you really mean by “work,” Daddy.
The work is to infuse every scene with an erotic sense of longing — the more deeply anyone in this movie bros out, the more deeply erotic it becomes. Every moment of banter, every gaze that is silently exchanged between Vin Diesel and Ludacris, or the Rock and Jason Statham, or Tyrese and a Bugatti, has a certain energy that makes me think (pray) like if they held that gaze, that smile, for two more seconds, thin cotton T-shirts would hit the floor. The actual sex doesn’t matter (and thank god; the one sort-of sex scene includes close-ups of gossamer curtains flapping in the Cuban breeze and talk of procreation) because — as in a romance novel — it’s all about desire.
The Fate of the Furious doubles down on building desire: between the loving, long sensual shots of Lambos and things exploding, and the equally long sensual shots of the veins bulging on biceps, or Jason Statham’s lips. And this is why the franchise ultimately has such longevity. Yes, there are endless things to blow up and endless venues in which to blow them up ( I think space is next) — but mostly it endures because there are endless ways to make an audience wonder, “Whoa, are they about to make out?” But any Harlequin reader could have told you that.