According to “Furious 7” star Vin Diesel, the latest entry in the increasingly popular franchise is going to take home the Best Picture Oscar. Did Diesel make that comment with tongue firmly planted in cheek? That’s anyone’s guess. Having seen the film though, I think it’s safe to say that “Furious 7” doesn’t stand much of a chance of taking home the gold. Not that a populist film doesn’t deserve a shot at a Best Picture win. Heck, a strong argument could have been made for 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Having said that, the simple truth is that for my money, “Furious 7” is not as entertaining as 2013’s, “Furious 6”, but at the very least, a monumentally valiant effort was made.
Following Paul Walker’s tragic passing, some questioned whether or not this film would finish production. In the end, not only did new to the franchise director James Wan and his cast and crew finish “Furious 7” but they managed to re-work the movie and make it a fitting (and classy) tribute to Walker. Clearly, the actor’s unfortunate passing elevates the drama here. It’s that rare (and sad) example of how real life and the movies intertwine making for an undeniably poignant mix of thrills and heart. Quite honestly, it is difficult to watch the final moments of this picture and not get a little choked up.
In “Furious 7”, mysterious “shadow” figure Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge against Dom Toretto (Diesel) and crew for the death of his brother Owen in the last installment. Through the help of a shady “Mr. Nobody” (gleefully played by the great Kurt Russell), Dom and family are reunited in an effort to not only protect themselves from Shaw, but also to retrieve a program called “God’s Eye,” a dangerous code capable of turning any technological device into a weapon.
Of course, the McGuffin, Shaw’s vengeful scheme, and a subplot involving Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), her memory loss, and her love connection to Dom are all just an excuse to mount a series of ridiculously over the top action sequences. Massive set pieces that throw realism out the window and defy the laws of physics on nearly every conceivable level. And guess what? That’s why audiences come to see these movies. True, viewers respond to the franchise’s earnest sense of family and loyalty, but it’s the action that keeps them coming back for more.
You’ll be happy to know that “Furious 7” has no shortage of crazy action to speak of, the highlights being an automobile free fall from a plane, a high speed chase through the twisty curvy roads of a mountain top, and an absurdly entertaining game of cat and mouse in one of Abu Dhabi’s tallest skyscrapers.
“Conjuring” director James Wan makes a nice transition from horror to action; although it should be noted that while he does keep the goofy but endearing “Fast and Furious” mythology alive, he isn’t quite as adept as Justin Lin is when it comes to action, particularly in the hand-on-hand combat sequences. Take for instance an early brawl between Shaw and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Hobbs. It’s fast paced to be sure, but the action is shot tight making for a fight that is a little too muddled for my tastes.
Still, Wan more than makes up for it with the expertly conceived car chases. And his stunt team deserves a raise. An unforgettably intense sequence in which Brian dangles from a bus hanging over the side of a cliff reminded me of a key moment in the criminally under appreciated Kurt Russell thriller, “Breakdown”.
There is a propulsive energy that drives “Furious 7”, and the sense of family, cultural diversity, and fun at the heart of the movie makes the cornball dialogue, wooden acting, lazy transitions, and absurdity of it all far more forgivable than it might have been otherwise. Michael Bay could learn a lot from this franchise.
I wouldn’t call “Furious 7” a masterpiece, but what it does, it does with fitting self-awareness, big-time energy, and undeniable humor. Clearly, this film was designed to make people happy, and somewhere, I’m sure Paul Walker is smiling.