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« Golden Spy | Main | Furious #7, Cinderella #1 »
Sunday
Apr052015

Review: Furious 7

Michael C. here admitting upfront that I was wary about the prospect of reviewing an entry in the Fast/Furious franchise. The risk is that a movie like this turns one into a caricature of a film critic, a Frasier Crane type watching the movie through a pair of opera glasses, scoffing and harrumphing at the schlock on the screen. The kind of killjoy who cranks out the cane-shaking screed about how 'in MY DAY car movie had GRAVITAS, not the weightless, video game CRAP that these damn KIDS shell out for! Something, something, Steve McQueen.'

So I am relieved that seventh entry in the franchise did not force me into that unappealing position. Unlike the recent Kingsman, which spoiled the fun of its action with a rancid attitude, I can endorse Furious 7 if only for the tone of goofy positivity maintained by director James Wan. These films are, as they never tire of repeating, all about family. Family and loyalty and introducing every third scene with a shot of a babe’s bikini-clad ass. Getting worked up over the lack of realism on display is like chastising a toddler smashing his Tonka trucks together because, actually, that’s not how to use a cement mixer properly.

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I confess I have no clue how the gang of outlaw racers from the first film mutated into this film’s team of globe-trotting super agents that the US military turns to when no one else can get the job done. But if one is going to get stuck on logical hang-ups like that then one has no business watching Furious 7 in the first place. This is a movie where even the tech guy played by Ludacris is suddenly a martial arts expert when the plot needs him to be, so one can’t waste time getting tripped up by little details like common sense or the laws of physics.

The plot this time involves the team trading favors with the US military. They will track down that old chestnut, “the unstoppable super hacking device”, before it falls into the hands of terrorists. In return the government agrees to use the device to help the team track down the black ops super-soldier who is bent on revenge for his brother getting crippled by Team Furious in the last flick.

Is it worth noting that Vin Diesel and company appear to have no qualms about handing over to the government the ultimate tool for trampling civil rights? It hardly seems like the right stance for a team of renegade outlaws to take, but then I’m probably giving the movie deeper analysis than it deserves, definitely more than it wants. Likewise, the presence of drones late in the film should not be interpreted as a statement any more thoughtful than “You know what’d be cool? Drones!”

I’ll spare you any more political analysis of the plot machinations needed to arrange for Vin Diesel to hit Jason Statham with a giant wrench. Instead I’ll mention that a most-welcome Kurt Russell plays the chief government operative, gifting the film with all the charisma not supplied by The Rock. Russell’s presence is a constant reminder of his part in Death Proof's climactic car chase, a scene which dwarfs anything the Fast and Furious films ever produced. That they never found an excuse for Russell to get behind the wheel did not endear this film to my heart. Furious 7 even has a car with a specially reinforced frame just like Stuntman Mike’s, although I can’t be 100% sure the film is smart enough to know it was making the reference and not lazily recycling the plot point. 

And therein lies the real flaw in this film. To fault the film for its total abandonment of logic is to take the bait and give the film a pass for the shameless laziness on display. When Vin Diesel is cornered on the edge of a mountain and he escapes by simply driving off the cliff the sin isn’t that he somehow survives an extended plummet down a rocky mountainside without so much as a scratch. The sin is the disappointing cheapness of that solution.The movie overcompensates for this thinness with swagger and no end of spinning helicopter shots but it’s impossible to miss the film’s first draft carelessness. And this isn’t snobbishness talking. I love a good tough guy one-liner as much as anyone, but what am I supposed to make of thin gruel like this exchange at the funeral of a friend killed by Statham’s villain:

Ludacris: No more funerals, man.

Paul Walker: Maybe one more funeral…his.

Material like that extends well past the point where “We are just here to have some silly action fun” remains a legit excuse. That attitude of tossed off sloppiness infects the entire film. Statham’s character can just show up in random scenes without explanation like the creature from It Follows. In one glaring moment, a scene ends with several characters in the hands of security forces and in the next scene they are back in the garage without explanation. It turns out that if you give a film’s action a pass on logic enough times it will start to tread on that suspension of disbelief whenever they don’t want to go through the bother of writing a complete scene.

And even as I give the film a pass on its cartoonish, gravity mocking action I will never stop protesting the bland PG-13 bubble in which this franchise exists where nothing hurts and the hero can’t even kill the bad guy in the end. It doesn’t help that I had just watched Robocop for the first time, so I would have gladly traded a dozen exploding muscle cars for one bursting blood squib. What is the point of trotting out Dwayne Johnson with his glistening arms the size of torpedoes if he can slam his fist into a guy’s face repeatedly without giving him so much as a bloody nose?

The answer for Furious 7 isn’t to get up on one's car chase purist high horse and compare it to Bullit or Vanishing Point. One need only point to Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to demonstrate how a movie can deliver reality defying thrills without disengaging higher brain function. (It’s a comparison Furious 7 makes particularly easy since it cribs the Abu Dhabi locations directly from Protocol). In a few years when people think back on Furious 7 they won’t have anything as strong as Protocol’s Burj Khalifa sequence to prevent it blurring into the rest of the franchise. Like racecars reduced to their maximum lightness these films have been stripped to their barest essentials in story and character. All that lingers from Furious 7 are a few stand alone elements: a supercar leaping from building to building, the absurd spectacle of cars parachuting from the sky, an amnesia subplot that stands out as silly even amid the exploding carousel of silliness that is the rest of the film. Then there is the ending that manages to earn all that talk of family by summoning a goodbye for Paul Walker of worthy bittersweet sadness. All told, it’s not much compared to the ride of a lifetime the film promises. But it’s not nothing either.

Grade: C

 

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Reader Comments (11)

This all suddenly became interesting for the few moments when I thought you were talking about Keri Russell...

April 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Getting worked up over the lack of realism on display is like chastising a toddler smashing his Tonka trucks together because, actually, that’s not how to use a cement mixer properly.
LOL. the best.

April 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I never noticed it until now and I've loved Kurt Russell for a while, but he had major John Wayne charisma in this film. I'm really looking forward to him in Hateful Eight.

April 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

just watched Robocop for the first time

Shame on you.

April 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

3rtful: For not having ever seen RoboCop 1987 or for having seen it at all? Because I know he's not talking about seeing RoboCop 2014 if he's talking about the feeling of being visceral.

April 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

For not having seen RoboCop until now.

April 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

"I had just watched Robocop for the first time"

how have you managed to live this long on this planet...

April 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

Granted, I haven't watched one since Fast Five, which was fun, but like I've been saying elsewhere, it sorta feels like it's just watching CGI cars fly these days. There used to be a tangibility to the stunts where it genuinely felt like real cars on real pavement involved in real crashes with potentially real consequences.

April 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn -

Yeah, any weight or plausibility to the stunt work is a distant memory. Actually, I think it makes more sense at this point to compare the action in these films to the spectacle of a Busby Berkeley musical number. They are making the same effort at realism.

April 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

3rtful - I am duly shamed. I now look on the first three Robocop-less decades of my life as wasted time.

April 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

A very good movie, the perfect send off for Brian. Rest in peace Paul Walker.

April 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSBO

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