Review: FURIOUS 7, Super-Charged And Super-Sized
It took some convincing to get me to believe that there was anything more to the Fast & Furious series than that. By the time part five rolled around, I had still never seen one of these films. The world of gleaming super-charged street racing simply didn't appeal to me, despite my latent love for the occasional down & gritty car crash movie.
Universal, the studio behind this ballooning franchise, once gave the world Smokey & the Bandit, a classic 1970s tire-squealer that's not afraid to show its seams. The Fast & Furious series are something different. Different from the car crash movies that preceded them, and different from the post-MTV adrenalized schlock that I dismissed them as.
Actually, let me add a big qualifier - I've only ever seen Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 before seeing Furious 7. Yes, they are dumb, loud, prone to moments of leering objectification (of both young women [not okay] and cars [yeah fine, look all you want]), and logically speaking, as dumb as an axel rod.
But there's also a lot of heart, a lot of genuine care for the ongoing characters, and a crackling house style that manages to be cool without being alienating. These are gloriously implausible action films, designed to be enjoyed on a base level; the audience laughing with them, not at them. Somewhere amid this formula, I was mildly shocked to find myself anticipating going back to this world for part seven.
Furious 7 doesn't disappoint, even as it plays it way safe. Gone is long-running director Justin Lin, replaced by the prolific horror helmer James Wan. Wan not only got handed the keys to this ever-expanding mega-franchise (far larger than the Insidious and Conjuring director has ever worked) - one with the unlikely dignification of hitting its stride with number Five (or so I'm told) - he also had to navigate the international production through the tragic and untimely death of series lead Paul Walker.
Unsurprisingly, Furious 7 sticks to the established formula of the two previous films, while also managing to be a tribute to its fallen star. In this case, the former can be considered as appropriate as the latter. Furious 7 delivers exactly what is expected.
Furious 7 certainly follows the conventional sequel wisdom of bigger/faster/stronger/louder/longer/MORE!!! While the parachuting cars are a kind of glorious cinematic inanity, it is felt that we're probably right up to the edge of what's plausible, even in this teenage boy/muscle-car world. And in terms of what the series might be losing because of this... "conventional wisdom" has never been "cool".
And even if the series has never actually been as cool as it has postured, it's still got something lose. Perhaps it's true that while good will, a game cast, and yes, a tragedy, help this film positively into the red, any future conformity to what works will simply start to look like an aging cast trying to make hip-hop videos.
Furious 7 was apparently named that in homage to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. To which, if that's the case, I can only respond with a healthy, "Bwah hah hah hah hah HAH!" But hey, a sense of history has never hurt.
Kurt Russell shows up to recruit Vin Diesel's Dom Toretto and his team for some sort of government deep-shadow ops unit, in order to stop the evil Jason Statham and his employer, the Big Bad, Djimon Hounsou. Again, there's nothing cool about going to work for The Man, but I'll be a grease monkey in a china shop if they aren't trying!
Russell gives a literally winking performance as chief dude "Mr. Nobody." The crew are jetting all over the planet in search of a crucial hard drive that's been stashed, inexplicably, in a supercool car that's been stashed, far more inexplicably, in a room full of highly valued fragile artifacts on the top floor of a high rise in Abi Dhabi. One guess what happens.
This set-piece gives everyone, including returning players Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, as well as F&F newcomer Nathalie Emmanuel, a chance to doll it up in some dashing outfits while crashing the big party. If Michelle Rodriguez getting into a one-on-one glass-wall-smashing, evening gown-flapping brawl -- one of two F&F house-style fight scenes -- with MMA champ Ronda Rousey, then I guess this party is a success.
The fight narrowly rivals the one Paul Walker has with martial arts superstar Tony Jaa, playing a glorified henchman, on a sardine-canned tour bus, careening down a desert road. Bookending the film we have Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, back again because, well, he's a part of this now. He's given just enough to do to make this film worth his while.
But it's Vin Diesel who keeps this motor running. He's perhaps the weirdest bonafide action star of all time, in that one has no trouble buying him as an invincible force ready and willing to intentionally crash every car he drives at intense speeds in order to get the bad guys, but also as a dough boy who'd well up over a Hallmark greeting card. His incessant reminders that his crew is his "family" is matched only by his deep register tough guy one-liners, at least one of which didn't register at all with me, buried somewhere in the auditorium's overworked subwoofers.
Walker's death is handled with the expected class and dignity necessary, although the continuous pronouncements of "No more funerals!" does get a bit meta-eerie. The real-world lengths the production had to go to in order to complete this film with his character still a major part of it doesn't show as often as one would suspect. Apparently, every trick in the book was employed to achieve Walker's unfinished scenes: doubles, CGI, editing trickery, etc.
It may come as a shock that Furious 7 wraps up with the most effectively emotional finish of the year. Which is perfectly cool with me.
Furious 7 rolls out wide, wide, wide on Friday, April 3, 2015. Thanks to Erik Yates of ZekeFilm.org, who helped steer this review in the proper directions.