Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: "Furious 7"

"Furious 7" features a lot of great stunts and a great deal of silliness. This franchise started out 14 years ago about a bunch of punk twentysomething street racers, and by now it's morphed into a James Bond clan in which everybody does martial arts, spy infiltrations and super stunts in addition to being expert wheel men (and women).

You pretty much know what you're getting with any of the "Furious" flicks: aerobatic car stunts, smashmouth fights, explosions galore, booties shaken, muscles engorged, exotic locales and lots of quips. The first 20 minutes or so features very little action, with main star Vin Diesel repeatedly threatening the camera, vaguely: "They're gonna pay for their mistakes... big time."

That's not actually what he says, but it could be. One of the main failings of these movies is that the dialogue often sounds like it was written by a pair of 15-year-olds who were locked in a vault with a bunch of video games and no contact with other humans.

(Chris Morgan, who penned the first, fifth and sixth movies, is officially given credit.)

Justin Lin, who directed the last four films in the series, is replaced by horror filmmaker James Wan. He adds a few new flourishes of his own, such as rotating the camera to follow the trajectory of an actor spinning through the air during a fight or crash, and then flogs them like a deceased equine.

Still, it's hard to deny that many of the chase scenes in the latter half are truly thrilling. The best are a multi-car road duel on a twisty mountain road, and a super-valuable sports car being jumped from one high-rise skyscraper to another... and another.

Dwayne Johnson, as supercop Hobbs, is actually sidelined for most of the movie after sustaining serious injuries during an early tussle, which is notable for a couple of reasons. First, we don't get to enjoy Johnson and Diesel engaging in another pointless battle of behemoths. Second, this is virtually the only time a character gets more than a scratch during the entire flick, despite an unrelenting barrage of bullets, shrapnel, kicks, punches and sudden g-force trauma.

The plot is an incomprehensible muddle of MacGuffins, red herrings, come-and-go villains and set pieces. Our travels take us from Los Angeles to London, Abu Dhabi, the Caucuses, the Dominican Republic and more.

Ostensibly it's about catching Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the brother of the bad guy from the last movie. He's a British black ops chap who wants revenge, so he starts tracking down the "family" members of Dom Toretto (Diesel), leader of the crew. Dom doesn't believe in playing defense, so soon they're chasing the guy chasing them.

Somehow this morphs into the search for an international hacker named Ramsey, who has created a program called the God's Eye, which uses cell phones, security cameras and virtually every electronic device to track anyone, anywhere.

(You may recall this is the same thing Batman used during the finale of "The Dark Knight"; it was goofy then, and it's still goofy now.)

Other familiar characters include Paul Walker as cop-turned-wingman Brian; Michelle Rodriguez as Dom's squeeze Letty, still struggling with amnesia after returning from the dead; Roman (Tyrese Gibson), ladies' man and comic relief; and Tej (Ludacris), computer expert and Roman tamer.

(Walker's death mid-production is handled by using CGI to paste his face on other actors' bodies; if you're not looking for it, you probably won't even notice. He also receives a send-off at the end that's genuinely touching.)

Joining the fray are Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), head of a vague American government arm that wants God's Eye, and Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), an African crime lord who desires it, too. Things build up to a spectacular showdown in L.A. with all parties taking part in a very destructive fracas.

"Furious 7" is not the sort of movie you're supposed to spend more than a few seconds thinking about, because if you do it all falls apart like sand. (For instance, how does the God's Eye track Shaw when he drives through a barren desert? Are the geckos rocking Samsungs?)

You're invited to just sit back, drink in the crazy action scenes and sneering attitude, and cheer. There are plenty of moments worth a huzzah, but many others that earn their derision.

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