For a while now, the Fast & Furious films have made it clear that rules of logic, physics, or even gravity have little place in their universe. It’s an argument that’s driven home pointedly in Furious 7, when five muscle cars parachute out of a plane only to hit the ground speeding, not one fender scratched. That scene in fact is just the starting point for a genuinely thrilling action centerpiece that also involves an armored bus, steep cliffs, and fearless heroes who will risk everything to protect each other.
From its modest beginnings in 2001 as a slick actioner about underground street racing, the Fast & Furious series has transformed itself into a bonafide blockbuster franchise that delivers giddily exciting orgy after orgy of vehicular carnage and relentless hand-to-hand smackdowns between pumped-up leading men. Horror film veteran James Wan (Saw, Insidious) may be in the driver’s seat this time, but the dialogue is still corny, and we get even more Michael Bay-style gratuitous shots of tits-and-ass than these films usually volunteer.
The plot, typically, is wafer-thin. Ruthless assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) shows up thirsting for revenge against Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew for putting his brother into intensive care in the previous film. A clandestine government operative (Kurt Russel) offers to help Dom track down Shaw in exchange for recovering a coveted surveillance device that has fallen into the hands of terrorists.
It’s a plot that sends our heroes shuttling between Los Angeles, Tokyo, the Dominican Republic, the Caucasus mountains, and Abu Dhabi, with the wall-to-wall action pausing only long enough for Tyrese Gibson to crack a sexist joke, or for Dom to continue to woo Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who’s still suffering from amnesia. There’s a terrific, jaw-dropping set piece in the Middle East where Diesel and Paul Walker’s characters drive a sports car off a skyscraper into another one…and another one! It’s preposterous, but that’s exactly what makes it so much fun.
The same can’t be said for the film’s overlong climax on the mean streets of LA, packed with helicopters, drone strikes, car chases and some good ol’ fashioned one-on-one combat. My head was throbbing through this frantically edited 20-minute showdown, which felt excessive and mind-numbing, and only worsened by the pointless 3D.
Of the cast, Dwayne Johnson returns as the rough-and-ready Agent Hobbs, although he spends much of the film wisecracking in a hospital bed, after a duel with Shaw leaves him battered. Jason Statham is nicely menacing as the chief villain, proving a worthy adversary to our beefed up heroes. Bollywood up-and-comer Ali Fazal gets a two-scene cameo as a Middle Eastern fixer, and he does a good job with the comic accent. But it’s Vin Diesel in the central role that the spotlight remains firmly fixed on. He’s typically stone-faced yet charismatic, and you still want to chuckle each time he bandies on about the importance of family.
What really separates the new film from its predecessors is its emotional depth; the knowledge that this is Paul Walker’s last turn as Brian O’Conner. Despite his tragic death midway through production, Walker remains a key figure in the film, thanks to the clever use of body doubles and nifty CGI effects. It’s hard not to get at least a little misty-eyed during the touching finale in which his character is given a fitting sendoff. Who’d have thought we’d leave a Fast & Furious film surrounded by mournful silence?
I’m going with three out of five for Furious 7. Like trusted comfort food, you’re happy to tuck into it knowing full well it has no nutritional value.