Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Furious 7 (2015)

The Fast and Furious franchise keeps rolling along in the action-packed FURIOUS 7 (2015).

This time around Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team (Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson) are looking for a rogue "black ops" type named Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Shaw killed another member of the Toretto "family," Han (Sun Kang), in retaliation after Toretto & Co. put his villainous brother (Luke Evans) in a coma in FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013).

The plot really doesn't matter a whole lot, serving as an excuse for a series of over-the-top action set pieces. Yeah, in one sense the cars jumping building to building in Dubai may have been a "jump the shark" moment, but a willing suspension of disbelief has been a necessity while watching the films for a while now. The key is that the characters sell such moments, and I for one happily go along with every crazy minute.

One might even call the Fast and Furious movies the action equivalent of "cozy" mysteries...lots of gunfire and smashing cars, but you always know what you're going to get and the movies never cross the line into disturbing territory. The death-defying stunt scenes are balanced with the film's ongoing focus on the very grounded theme of "family."

To recap a bit of what I wrote on FURIOUS 6, "On one level the movie is completely unbelievable...On another level, though, there's a great deal of down-to-earth heart, camaraderie, and emphasis on family. The continuity and traditions...make the movies about much more than just wrecking an unbelievable number of cars."

Unfortunately the "family" received a heavy blow with the charming Walker's too-early death in November 2013. I was somewhat dreading this entry for that reason, assuming Walker's Brian O'Conner would be killed off in the movie. I was pleased to discover that instead he was given a really lovely, upbeat sendoff. A montage ending the movie brought home that 14 years had passed since the first film in the series; Walker and Diesel looked so young in those early clips!

Fortunately the series has shown a great knack for adding new characters at just the right times. The addition of Dwayne Johnson's Agent Hobbs in FAST FIVE (2011) helped the series evolve to a new, higher level of entertainment; while Johnson's screen time is relatively limited in FURIOUS 7, his one-man wrecking crew puts a perfect cap on the slam-bang action sequence through the streets of Downtown L.A. ("I am the Cavalry!").

FURIOUS 7 adds two intriguing new characters to the mix: Kurt Russell, who's become a simply wonderful character actor, as the mysterious superspy "Mr. Nobody," and charismatic Villain Extraordinaire Jason Statham. Both actors return in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), which opens tomorrow. I'll be reviewing that one in the near future.

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS will also add Helen Mirren and Scott Eastwood to the ensemble. At least two more entries are planned, tentatively scheduled to be released in 2019 and 2021.

FURIOUS 7 was directed by James Wan. It was filmed by Marc Spicer and Stephen F. Windon. The running time is 137 minutes.

From other reviewers: Leonard Maltin notes the impossibility of the stunts but like me finds the movie "high-flying escapist fun" which "gives its fans exactly what they came for," likening it to Saturday matinee serials. Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times writes that FURIOUS 7 is "the fuel-injected fusion of all that is and ever has been good in [the]...saga," noting that beyond the flying cars, "it is in the handling of heartfelt sentiment that FURIOUS truly soars."

As an aside, USA Today has ranked the movies in the series, and I think it's a pretty good list. I might flip the ranking of Nos. 6 and 7 but agree with No. 5 being at the top of the list.

Parental Advisory: Like the other films in the series, FURIOUS 7 is rated PG-13 for non-graphic violence, some language, and some suggestive shots of women in a couple of sequences.

FURIOUS 7 is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant Video. The trailer is on YouTube.

Previous reviews in this series: THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001), 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003), FAST & FURIOUS (2009), FAST FIVE (2011), and FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013).

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