“Cars can’t fly! Cars can’t fly!” – Paul Walker’s Brian to Vin Diesel’s Dom, while the two of them are in a car that’s, well, flying, in “Furious 7.
It’s been 14 years and a jaw-dropping $2.8 billion in worldwide box office since “The Fast and the Furious” debuted in the summer of 2001, with the live-action cartoon movie factor revved up from film to film, to the point where the cars in “Furious 7” perform feats the cars in “Cars” couldn’t even do, and the humans brush off collisions and crashes that would put Spider-Man on the disabled list.
This is one of the most ridiculous thrillers I’ve ever seen, and yet even with a running time that stretched well beyond two hours, with so many repetitive moments I almost began to wonder if I had missed something and the movie had started again, I have to admit I was entertained by the sheer audacity of the car chases and battle sequences — and there were even some genuinely touching moments, especially a kind of movie-within-the-movie tribute to the late Paul Walker and his friendship with Vin Diesel.
Director James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”) doesn’t have quite the flair of Justin Lin, who helmed four of the “Furious” films, but Wan leads the league in pure, um, guts, when it comes to daring us not to laugh at the sheer insanity of staging elaborate auto stunts not only on city streets and on perilous roads high in the mountains, but in high-rise penthouses and at altitudes of 20,000 feet.
I lost count of how many times Diesel’s Dom found himself at the wheel of a car hurtling through the air, whether it had been dropped from an airplane or had literally run off a cliff.
More often than not, Dom kept steering. Just in case that might work, I supposed.
The plot, if you must know, goes something like this, and please bear with me if you haven’t seen all of the entries in the franchise — or, if like me, you HAVE seen all of them, and you’re still sometimes confused by some inconsistencies in the timeline.*
Whenever a franchise is in search of a new villain, the old “I’m avenging my brother” trick comes in handy. (See: Gruber, Simon Peter, “Die Hard 3.”) Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw is a former British black-ops assassin turned rogue maniac psychopathic “ghost” who plans to hunt down Dom and every member of his crew in retaliation for them messing up his nasty little brother.
After Shaw dukes it out with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Agent Hobbs in a knockdown, drag-out battle that leaves Hobbs in the hospital, Hobbs calls on his old friend Dom to get the band back together and track down Shaw.
In order to expand the action beyond the streets of Los Angeles, director Wan and screenwriter Chris Morgan have fashioned an overly complex tale involving a dapper U.S. government operative (Kurt Russell, in a juicy and fun performance); a gorgeous and brilliant British hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has created a program called “God’s Eye” which enables the owner to keep track of everyone, everywhere, all the time, and a bloodthirsty villain named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), who seems to have a small army at his disposal no matter what country he’s in.
The most audacious sequence takes place in the penthouse belonging to a billionaire Middle Eastern prince in Abu Dhabi. Dom and Brian wheel the prince’s $3.4 million sports car through the prince’s lavish party, through the window, into another tower, and then into ANOTHER tower.
And that’s only the third or fourth goofiest sequence in the film.
Statham makes for a formidable villain, though he disappears from the film for long stretches. Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Jordana Brewster all return, with each having a nice moment or two during some of the rare quiet stretches. There’s something likable about this ragtag bunch that keeps referring to the importance of “family,” even as they jones for the thrill of another adventure.
Walker reportedly had filmed about 85 percent of his role at the time of his death. His scenes were completed with the help of his brothers acting as stand-ins for medium and long shots, and some CGI trickery. There were one or two shots when I was fairly sure I was seeing the latter, and it was a little bit jarring.
Walker was killed when the Porsche his friend was driving ran into a concrete lamppost and two trees in Venice, Calif., in a horrific case of real life reminding us that unlike in the movies, one doesn’t often walk away and just dust oneself off after high-speed impact crashes. “Furious 7” could have come across as ghoulish, but it’s not until the very end that we’re reminded of Walker’s fate, and the filmmakers handle it with taste and respect.
* ”Furious 7” takes place immediately after the events of “Tokyo Drift,” which was the third film in the franchise. The fourth, fifth and sixth movies take place chronologically between “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Drift.” When “Drift” was made in 2006, it was set in 2006, and the technology reflected that. Now we have “Furious 7,” which is set right after the events of “Drift,” but it’s also set in 2015, with all the cutting-edge technology that implies. Headache!