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Furious 7
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by Peter Sobczynski

"I Am Furious--YOLO"
4 stars

"Furious 7," the latest installment of the long-running and enormously popular action film franchise consisting of souped-up cars, outrageous stunts, explosions and increasingly prosaic titles, is one of the damnedest movies in recent memory, especially of the blockbuster variety. On the one hand, the essential storyline could probably be recounted on a single 3x5 note card with plenty of white space left over afterwards for you to fit in your grocery list as well. On the other hand, the beyond-basic narrative has been so voluminously embroidered with plot detours designed to amp things up to ridiculous proportions while somehow contriving to finally fit the seemingly extraneous sequel "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" into the grand story arc at last and a cast of characters so enormous as to make Russian novels look like chamber pieces by comparison that even the elongated 140-minute running time hardly seems adequate to cram it all in. Add in the inescapable need to somehow deal with the fact that one of the film's stars, Paul Walker, died during its production in a horrific car crash not that far removed from the orgies of destruction that have been an essential part of the saga's success since the beginning and you have a film that has to clear a whole lot of hurdles if it is to have even the slightest chance of succeeding. And yet, despite being a production more top heavy than many of its female extras and containing enough narrative curlicues to leave even the likes of Thomas Pynchon scratching his head in total perplexity at certain points, "Furious 7" manages to do just that and the result is an oftentimes exhilarating piece of pop cinema with enough excitement and goofball charm to satisfy hardcore devotees of the series as well as newcomers.

At the end of "Fast & Furious 6," you may recall, our hot-rodding heroes-- including hotrod legend Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), newly minted family man Brian O'Connor, amnesiac badass babe Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), tech wizard Tej (Ludacris), not-so-tough guy Roman and muscly fed Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)--defeated British baddie Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and as "Furious 7" opens, he is in the hospital at death's door when he is visited by his even badder older brother, Deckard (Jason Statham), an ex-Special Forces soldier who has been a rogue agent for the last few years. After visiting his sibling--and laying waste to the entire hospital in the process--he vows to find and kill those responsible and after a brief side trip to Los Angeles to get names and addresses, he begins to hunt them down one by one by traveling to Japan to bump off side player Han (Sung Kung), in a move that was teased at the very end of "Furious 6" and which indicates that "Tokyo Drift" actually comes chronologically after the events of parts 4, 5 and 6 (hey, if "The Godfather Part II" can do it. . .). Thus begins a long game of cat and mouse that takes our heroes from Japan to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi with Deckard in relentless pursuit until they all return to L.A. for one final confrontation in which the streets are turned into one enormous demolition derby.

"Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi?," you may ask, not without reason. Well, as our heroes are preparing to face off against Deckard, they are visited by a government spook known only as Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) with an irresistible proposition. A computer hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) has been kidnapped by terrorist warlord Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) in the hopes of gaining access to her new invention, an all-powerful software program that can instantly track anyone anywhere utilizing any and all available cameras and smartphones. Officially, the U.S. government cannot go in Azerbaijan, where she is being taken via a remote and virtually impregnable mountain roadway, but if Toretto and the gang can somehow retrieve her and the device, dubbed "God's Eye," Nobody will allow them to use it to track Deckard and get the upper hand at last. This detour leads to several of the wildest set-pieces in a franchise not exactly known for quiet reticence, including the singular method that the gang uses to access the road, a literal cliffhanger involving Brian and an out-of-control bus and, once the scene shifts to Abu Dhabi, a brawl for the ages between Letty and a brutal bodyguard (UFC champion Rhonda Rousey) and the already-famous building-to-building car gag that has been popping eyes since the trailer debuted during the Super Bowl (suffice it to say, there is more to it than has already met the eye).

Considering how "Furious 7" has to simultaneously keep track of all of its various plot threads and a giant cast of characters encompassing most of the key players from the previous installments (though Rita Ora's character from the previous installment is sadly nowhere to be seen) as well as a bunch of new players (with even Iggy Azalea popping up in a brief cameo) while also setting up and executing a ridiculous amount of increasingly insane action sequences, there are times when it begins to feel like the cinematic equivalent of one of those old variety show acts where the guy tries to keep a dozen plates spinning without dropping and breaking any of them, To their credit, screenwriter Chris Morgan (who has been penning the series since "Tokyo Drift") and director James Wan, the former "Saw" auteur making his franchise debut, keep things spinning for far longer than any rational person might have reasonably expected. Morgan's screenplay is nuts but it is the right kind of nuts--the sheer crazy exuberance on display throughout is undeniably invigorating and the mock-heroic dialogue ("The sins of London have followed us home"), half-earnest and half-ludicrous, manages to find just the right tone. For his part, Wan, working on a much larger scale than ever before, keeps things moving along in a briskly entertaining manner and while his reliance on CGI effects is occasionally a bit distracting (if a necessary evil when one violates the laws of physics as often as this film does), I suppose that this is not as distracting as it might have been since the entire film is basically a live-action cartoon from start to finish.

The biggest obstacle that Wan and Morgan had to work around, of course, was the passing of Paul Walker that occurred midway through shooting and the incredibly delicate challenge of trying to figure out a way to complete the movie in a way that would somehow be dramatically satisfying without coming across as either cheesy or exploitative--in other words, without turing the film into "Trail of the Fast & the Furious." From what I understand, this was accomplished through a combination of script rewrites, previously unused footage of Walker from the other films and utilizing his two brothers as body doubles with his face then added through the miracle of CGI. From a technical standpoint, they have done a fairly good job of accomplishing their goals--although there are a couple of scenes in which the use of doubles is kind of obvious thanks to the extended looks that we get at the back of his character's head, they mostly manage to maintain the illusion despite the fact that many viewers are going to be actively looking for the more obvious technical seams. From a dramatic standpoint, it is also successful because while there are a couple of cringe-inducing moments (such as one where it is proclaimed that there will be "no more funerals"), it doesn't feels as if the film is jumping through hoops in order to cover potential plot holes. More importantly, the filmmakers have obviously approached their dilemma with equal parts restraint and respect and when it comes to dealing with the inevitable fact that Walker and the series are now parting ways for good, it does so in a way that is smart, graceful and even kind of touching.

And while no one is going into a film like "Furious 7" expecting Oscar-quality performances (despite Vin Diesel's insistence that it will be the winner of next year's Best Picture prize), the mega-sized cast--easily the most racially and culturally diverse collection of characters of any long-running film franchise that I can immediately think of--is pretty entertaining right across the board. Regulars like Walker, Diesel, Rodriguez and Johnson easily slip back into their roles and while their efforts may not require any heavy emotive lifting, they all once again deploy the kind of undeniable on-screen charisma that can be just as important--perhaps even more so in the case of a film like this where the players run the risk of being subsumed by the chaos exploding around them in virtually every scene. Luckily, the newer faces are equally good at cutting through the lunacy to carve out space for themselves as well. As the mysterious government official, Kurt Russell's entire part may consist entirely of boilerplate exposition and odd endorsement of craft beers on paper but he somehow manages to sell it in his inimitable fashion with hugely entertaining results. As the main bad guy, Jason Statham is also a blast--although he may have been cast largely because he is one of the few movie tough guys at work today who looks as though they could convincingly get into, and possibly even win, a fistfight with the likes of Dwayne Johnson, he finds a way of coming across as the hardest ass imaginable while at the same time suggesting a slyly self-amused approach that shows that he is in on the joke as well. For the last few years, Statham has been one of those reliable performers who always does good work, even in films that are substandard, but who has never quite managed to have the big breakthrough hit--between this film and the upcoming "Spy" (in which he displays some unexpectedly deft broad comedic chops), that time has finally arrived.

Although "Furious 7" may not be the artistic highpoint of the franchise to date--at 140 minutes, it does run on a little longer than necessary and, despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the screen, it never quite finds a single image as instantly brilliant as the sight of two muscle cars dragging a giant safe through the streets of Rio that topped off "Fast Five." That said, as cinematic eye candy goes, this is the good stuff and even though it may be a little too much of a good thing at times, I vastly prefer its goofy, if somewhat bloated, charms to most current-day blockbusters. I don't know exactly where the franchise goes from here--does it continue with the same basic cast of characters, bring some of the supporting players up to the forefront as a way of injecting some fresh blood (I see a spinoff in which Lucas Black and Iggy Azalea drive around in a souped-up van solving mysteries) or just pass on the baton to a new cast of characters (as was the case with "Tokyo Drift")? I don't have the answer to that but what I do know is that at this point, the idea of a "Fast & Furious 8" is far more appealing to me than any of the superhero saga continuations currently on the horizon.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25900&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/02/15 10:35:15
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell the series peaked with first one vin diesel is a crap actor 1 stars
10/08/15 mr.mike Has a been there-done that feel, Russell is underused and Walker is obviously spliced in. 2 stars
8/05/15 Meep Liked 4 and 5 but this one missed the spot, despite some good moments 2 stars
4/11/15 Loader These movies are terrible 1 stars
4/05/15 KingNeutron A bit too much shaky-cam and unbelievable lack of bodily hurt, but well worth seeing 4 stars
4/04/15 Bob Dog Seven sucked the fun out of the franchise - - unnecesarily soapy. 2 stars
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  03-Apr-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 15-Sep-2015


  DVD: 15-Sep-2015

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