Saturday, April 04, 2015

Furious Seven

Multiple locations, an overstuffed cast, and a soupcon of poignancy stand out in FURIOUS SEVEN, the first in Universal’s engine-revving series to not be directed by Justin Lin since 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS. Taking the driver’s seat this time is SAW’s James Wan, whose touch with slow-burning horror is better than his skills shooting and pacing coherent action scenes.

Star Paul Walker died in a fiery car crash during filming, and, yes, it’s a little weird to watch his character driving like an asshole, knowing what we know. Wan used doubles, including Walker’s brothers, and CGI to fill in the scenes Walker hadn’t shot yet, and the seams mostly don’t show. Despite the series’ emphasis on family and loyalty, what keeps audiences returning to these FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies are their increasingly ludicrous action scenes, which by now are no different than what you’d see in Looney Toons shorts (in this one, Vin Diesel literally survives a plunge off a steep cliff a la Wile E. Coyote).

Beginning with FAST FIVE, the franchise began a switch toward spy/caper plots, and FURIOUS SEVEN is no exception. In fact, it has too many plots. Half of FURIOUS SEVEN is Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) stalking Dom Toretto (Diesel) and his team to avenge the crippling of his brother Owen in FURIOUS 6 (and Dom promising revenge against Shaw in return).

Then there’s Mr. Nobody, a shadowy government spook who recruits Dom and his team for a secret spy mission that the United States, for unclear reasons, can’t be a part of. When your story has a lot of exposition to lay out, it’s smart to hire a charisma machine like Kurt Russell (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) to say the words, and Russell’s amusing turn is one of FURIOUS SEVEN’s great delights (he even gets hands-on with the gunplay).

Dom, Brian O’Conner (Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, who shines her attractive smile more often than usual), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Taj (Ludacris) need to retrieve a shapely computer hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) who controls a device called God’s Eye that allows its user to literally hack every computer, smartphone, tablet, you name it in the world. Obviously, it can’t fall into the wrong hands of terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, who’s barely in the movie and has nothing to do when he is).

As if that ain’t enough, Letty gets to kick-punch and punch-kick a bodyguard played by MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (THE EXPENDABLES 3), while O’Conner goes fist-to-fist twice with Jakande’s man Kiet, played by Thai action star Tony Jaa (ONG BAK). Wan’s worst crime as director is screwing up Jaa’s fight scenes, shooting them in jerky-cam so that we can’t see the acrobatic star do his thing. While this may have been done to hide Walker’s double, there’s no sense in hiring an amazing athlete like Tony Jaa and not letting him cut loose with spectacular stunts.

Oh, yeah, there’s also Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, charismatic as always in a bookended cameo as agent Luke Hobbs, who gets all the funniest one-liners. Hell, even Lucas Black, last seen in the SEASON OF THE WITCH-esque THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT, stops by for a cameo. And let’s not forget poor Jordana Brewster, once again relegated to the sidelines, tucked away in a heavily armed fortress in the Dominican Republic (just go with it) with her and Brian’s son to protect. Whew. And somehow, there’s room for a zillion chases, explosions, crashes, and stunts, most of which are heavily imbued with CGI and a disregard for physics.

If you like these movies — and I admit that I mainly do — there’s no reason you won’t get a kick out of FURIOUS SEVEN. It isn’t smart, it isn’t performed well (this franchise may be the most woodenly acted in film history), and Wan’s direction of the action is shaky. It’s more sincere than blockbusters tend to be, however, and the tag’s tribute to Paul Walker is genuinely touching — a feat quite rare in a film that features as many destroyed vehicles as FURIOUS SEVEN.


Debbie Rochon said...

The great thing about the "Fast and Furious" movies is that they ALWAYS give the audience their moneys worth, and what more can you really ask for from a movie than that ! ! !.

Grant said...

I don't have any affection for car chase movies, but I've always had a thing for Michelle Rodriguez (at least from LOST onwards). So I'm really "torn" when it comes to this series.