In this era of mega-franchises, The Fast and the Furious series has had the most curious journey, going from dumb, goofy junk to dumb, incredibly popular (and even beloved in some circles), goofy junk. What’s even stranger is the path they’ve taken, filling their films with a cast of B- and C-list talent who’ve never been able to carry a film on their own, while getting more and more ridiculous and making more and more cash. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in bloat, a simple side effect of the films’ increasingly complex plot lines and character list. In this sense — and therein, perhaps, lies the franchise’s greatest secret — these movies are little more than tarted up soap operas, but with lots of testosterone, fist fights and car chases.
The latest installment, Furious 7, embodies this perfectly. We have memory loss, pregnancy, vengeful brothers — add in all the fake deaths from the other films and this is straight-up General Hospital here. The conceit this time around is that our heroes, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) and their ragtag crew of misfits are being hunted by uber-spook Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the brother of Fast & Furious 6’s bad guy (Luke Evans). This leads to them all sputtering around the globe to stop Deckard, something that puts them into the paths of a secretive government agent (Kurt Russell), a computer hacker (TV actress Nathalie Emmanuel) and an international terrorist (a really loud and pretty embarrassing Djimon Hounsou).
None of this matters, since Furious 7’s purpose is that of high-powered action machine, one with plenty of fight scenes and ridiculous car chases that stretch the limits of credulity. In this sense, the film delivers, especially since director James Wan (taking over for series stalwart Justin Lin), who — despite his horror movie background not really informing the film in any way — has a sense of showmanship and coherence in his action scenes. It’s welcome and — for a time — makes the film feel fully realized. With the death of series star Paul Walker during filming, there is a feeling of culmination — and maybe even importance (his send off, while corny, is appropriately tasteful) — even for something as disposable as this series.
But it never truly pays off, not with a 140-minute running time that gets bogged down in action scenes that feel like a lot of been-there-done-that, with a whole lot of extraneous exposition and character dynamics. Then, add in the awful dialogue (Diesel’s half-baked, thick-necked philosophizing, The Rock’s nonsensical one-liners) and awkward cameos from people who are even worse actors than Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, and the movie tends to get a bit rickety. But it’s totally in line with the rest of the franchise and will work for people who adore the other movies. For everyone else, there’s some excitement but little else. Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.