Friday, April 3, 2015

“Furious 7”: Not quite as fast as its six older bros

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2015 at 12:58 PM

click to enlarge UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED.
  • Unsafe at any speed.

Furious 7 is the tersely named septquel to Universal’s 2000 remake of The Fast and the Furious, but you’ll be forgiven if for the first few minutes of this film you think you’ve mistakenly stumbled into Transporter 4 or Crank 3. That’s because it opens on Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, a rogue English secret agent and brother of the villain beaten down in the franchise’s sixth installment, swearing monosyllabic revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), and their merry band of bank-robbing street racers. The gang has gone domestic since their last heist, with ex-con Dom focused on reawakening the amnesiac Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) love for him, and ex-cop Paul reduced to driving a minivan.

Shaw shatters their suburban routine, snuffing one of the team’s least memorable members and knocking Hobbs, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s absurdly overdeveloped diplomatic agent, out of commission. Pursuit of payback drives Dom and company into an uneasy partnership with Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), yet another shadowy G-man with a seemingly endless supply of SWAT teams at his command. Our heroes pursue Nash and the “God’s Eye” — a spy-tech McGuffin designed by an improbably attractive hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) — from the mountains of central Asia to the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi, before returning home to Los Angeles for a parking structure-pulverizing finale.

You could probably skip the preceding two paragraphs, since no one really goes to a Fast and Furious film for the intricate plot. Even so, after the previous two pulpy yet entertaining flicks, it’s disappointing how threadbare the plotting and character development are in this go-around. The simplistic vengeance tale, driven by Statham’s nearly dialogue-free presence, features none of the secrets or surprises that spiced up previous scripts, and the interplay between the leads and supporting cast members like Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson has been whittled down to a few half-hearted “comic relief” moments.

Most importantly for a franchise founded on first-rate car chases, Saw director James Wan (replacing Justin Lin, who helmed F&Fs 3 through 6) makes the vehicular-mayhem money shots surprisingly dull and difficult to follow. While earlier Fast films emphasized practical effects and physical stunts over computer-generated action, Furious 7’s action sequences are the most artificial-feeling in the franchise, with physics-defying moments that provoke unintended laughter. Pacing is also an issue, with the first major setpiece not showing up until well into the film’s first hour. There are still sufficient ’splosions and spinouts to make the General Lee jealous, but nothing as iconic as the vault scene from Part 5, or the tank and airplane scenes in Part 6.

Many moviegoers may have a ghoulish fascination with how the mid-production death of Paul Walker affected the finished film. (It was reportedly completed with the aid of Walker’s brothers as body doubles and a whole lot of CGI.) While the actor’s untimely loss isn’t directly addressed in the context of the film, his character fades into the background for long stretches, pushing Vin Diesel firmly into the lone alpha male role and unfortunately reducing the bromance repartee that was the soul of the earlier movies. Furious 7 concludes with an elegiac montage and the dedication “For Paul”; it’s a classy, emotional coda, but it points up how oddly dispassionate and disconnected much of the movie leading up to it feels. The Furious franchise is likely to roll on even without Walker, but unlucky No. 7 is more sound and fury than the spectacular swan song that fans may have been anticipating.   

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