Silver Screen: Furious Seven ****
Over the weekend, while catching up with my old college roommate, I got into a debate over the relative merits of the Fast and Furious movies. “The airplane sequence in part six went on way too long, wasn’t nearly as cool as the tank scene in part five.”
It’s a ridiculous distinction, a bit like parsing out the subtleties of different flavors of Mountain Dew. But it’s also a silly argument because they’re all pretty fun. The Fast and Furious series— at least since the return of costars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in the fourth installment— has become the go-to franchise for smartly executed absurdity. The over-the-top action is unabashedly supercharged with testosterone.
Sure, if the acting were a car it would be a ‘71 Ford Pinto, and if the dialogue were a car it would be a wooden box with no wheels. But the filmmakers behind the Fast and Furious movies know what you want and consistently deliver.
In theory, Furious Seven requires a significant awareness of backstory. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a government killer gone rogue, is out to avenge the crippling of his brother (Luke Evans), who was paralyzed by our heroes Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) in part six. Shaw’s first move is to kill crewmember Han (Sung Kang), first introduced back in the third chapter, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. Dom, meanwhile, is separated from longtime girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who is still dealing with the trauma of being exploded into a coma in part four and missing out on Fast Five altogether.
In practice, here’s all you need to know: A guy played by Jason Statham kills everyone in a hospital, so he’s bad, and then Dom and Brian must gather up all the various good guys (Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, the Rock) to beat up the bad guy with a little help from a vaguely credentialed government agent (Kurt Russell). The good guys drop cars out of planes, drive cars between buildings, crash cars, shoot cars, and sometimes just chill and look at cars.
Like any self-respecting tough guy, the Fast and Furious series has a soft spot for best pals and special ladies. The movies have always had a sentimental streak; these guys use the word “family” more often than Warren Jeffs or any given Juggalo. The mid-production death of co-frontman Paul Walker is like a nitrous booster for its emotions. The farewell is a little overwrought— this is a Fast and Furious movie, after all— but earned and genuinely touching.
Mostly, though, Furious Seven wastes little time wreaking beautiful havoc across the globe with a potent blend of computer-generated effects and badass practical stunts. The movie doesn’t just defy physics, it blasphemes it. The big setpieces here are some of the most eye-popping extravaganzas of the series, and they’re alternated with wonderful, simple pleasures like good old-fashioned fistfights between action superstars. (Jason Statham battling the Rock, mano e mano, is the greatest title bout since King Kong versus Godzilla.) The diverse cast looks like the United Nations of superstars, and despite a couple of perennially weak links— here’s looking at you, Jordana Brewster— they’ve had several movies’ worth of practice to hone these live-action cartoon characters. Long-forgotten Lucas Black even shows up for a scene, while newcomers Russell and Nathalie Emmanuel are nice additions.
Oh, and for the record: Furious 7 is tied with Fast Five for the best entry in the series, followed by Fast and Furious 6 and Fast and Furious, then original entry The Fast and the Furious and The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. The clunker of the group: 2 Fast 2 Furious.
But who’s counting?
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.