Spectacular car stunts and genuine sentiment outpace the inherent silliness of “Furious 7,” the satisfying seventh entry in the “Fast and Furious” franchise.
Silliness runs through this franchise like blood through the visible veins in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s bulging biceps as his federal-agent character mans a powerful firearm (guns squared!) in “Furious 7.”
During their 14-year run, the “Furious” films have transformed Los Angeles street racers into revved-up international crime fighters who drop names like “Interpol” and “Abu Dhabi.”
In “7,” a shadowy government intelligence official (Kurt Russell, looking like he’s having a blast) enlists street-racing king Dom (Vin Diesel, his emotional range reliably going from 0 to 1 during this film’s two-hour-plus run time) and crew to perform covert operations with their ultra-loud souped-up cars.
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But when Dom and company drive those vehicles out of a cargo plane’s hold and into mid-air, in order to drop into an otherwise unreachable Azerbaijan mountain location (the sequence was shot in the American Southwest), “Furious 7” makes its own sort of sense.
The movie’s equation becomes: One breathtaking action sequence is greater than four scenes of preposterous story developments.
This film also holds more emotional resonance – that is to say, any at all – than past “Furious” films, because it marks Paul Walker’s last appearance in the franchise as Brian, the former FBI agent and Dom’s lieutenant. Walker died in late 2013 when “7” was still in production, in a non-film-related car crash.
Director James Wan and his team finished Walker’s scenes by using old footage, CGI and Walker’s two brothers as stand-ins. A few moments look slightly off, but mostly, it appears as if Walker were there for every key moment in “Furious 7.” He stars in a stunner of an action sequence in which (spoiler alert) a car’s spoiler plays a key role.
The film’s on-screen sendoff to Walker is indirect, heartfelt and almost poetic. Walker’s no-fuss performance itself also pays tribute to his career.
Walker was not a great actor, but he was a solid, reassuring presence. His character has been the moral center of the “Furious” films, the good cop to Diesel’s quasi-criminal character.
We could discuss the plot of “7,” but that would mean pretending it matters. Here is a key element, though: Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, ex-special forces henchman and brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), defeated super villain from “Furious 6.”
Deckard vows revenge on his brother’s behalf, and he is connected to an all-seeing computer hacking program that Dom’s team is after. But Statham is in this film so he can fight Diesel and The Rock.
Both fights look punishing, though Wan employs that (too-common) hyperkinetic shooting style that obscures some action. Wan slows down the action, and thus lends greater impact, to scenes in which Dom and Deckard play chicken with cars. Neither is very chicken.
Horror director Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”) takes over here from Justin Lin, director of four “Furious” films. Wan elicits better performances from the main cast than Lin did. That’s saying something, because the dialogue (from screenwriter Chris Morgan) remains as clichéd here as it was in previous “Furious” films.
The ramrod-serious Diesel and Statham sell the dialogue, anyway. So do the more lighthearted Johnson and Tyrese Gibson (as the most egocentric member of Dom’s crew). Johnson and Gibson wring laughs from obvious jokes.
The acting champ of “7,” though, is Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom’s girlfriend and fellow driver. Supposedly killed in the fifth film, Letty came back in the sixth, but without her memory.
The amnesia story line lets Rodriguez do more than scowl and shift gears, her jobs in earlier “Furious” movies. She imparts internal conflict as Letty struggles to adjust to her new/old life.
It helps that “Furious 7,” like “Furious 6,” pairs Rodriguez for key scenes with an MMA fighter (Ronda Rousey here, Gina Carano in “6”) who kicks like a demon but cannot act. Rodriguez is Cate Blanchett next to these two.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham
Director: James Wan
Rated PG-13 (prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language).