This photo provided by Universal Pictures shows, Paul Walker as Brian, in a scene from "Furious 7."  (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

This photo provided by Universal Pictures shows, Paul Walker as Brian, in a scene from "Furious 7." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

Reeling it in: Amped-up action, heavy moments in ‘Furious 7’

“Furious 7”

Universal Pictures

2 hours, 17 minutes

 

The “Fast and Furious” epic saga (and it’s definitely that, as opposed to a hit movie with a string of knock-off sequels, a la “Nightmare on Elm Street”) is all about fun, so it’s with sad irony that “Furious 7” plays out its rousing adventure with the pall of star Paul Walker’s death over it.

The action star was killed in an unrelated car wreck before filming of this installment was finished, and the production had to go to great lengths, using a combination of stand-ins (Walker’s actual brothers) and computer effects, to come up with a final product. The result is absolutely seamless, but there’s still an unavoidable heaviness to a film whose series is known for being light.

There’s a scene at a funeral, the characters are mourning Han, the Japanese racer who was killed during the post-credits stinger of the last movie (also in “Tokyo Drift”) and Tyrese Gibson turns to Paul Walker’s Brian and says “Promise me, no more funerals.” Walker replies, “Just one.” That hurt.

Sadness aside, “Furious 7” does what you’d expect and amps up the action farther than anyone thought possible. I’ve said it before, and this installment confirms it, “The Fast and Furious” films are more comic book than most comic book movies, and these guys, this “family,” are as much a super-hero team as the Avengers or the Impossible Mission Force.

And like any good comic book, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the byzantine interpersonal journeys that each and every one of the characters are on. Vin Diesel’s Dom is happily back home in Los Angeles with Letty, Michelle Rodriguez, who still has amnesia because she got blown up back in the fourth movie. Walker’s Brian O’Conner is also happily at home, though trying to navigate being a dad with a mini-van instead of a super-cool, hard-driving bad-ass.

The villain from the last movie, Owen Shaw, who you thought was dead because he got blown out of an exploding plane careening down the tarmac, is actually in a hospital in London, and the villain of the current movie, Shaw’s shadowy ex-black ops big brother Deckard, played by actual bad-ass Jason Statham, is on the warpath.

In order to take revenge on those who hurt his brother, Deckard first approaches Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs, who used to be against Dom and his “family” but now is their best buddy. Deckard and Hobbs gloriously reduce his glass and chrome office to rubble, but not before Shaw manages to gather the information he needs to find and destroy the rest of the good guys.

And if all that weren’t enough, the movie soon introduces another secret agent, Mr. Nobody, played by Kurt Russell in a welcome return to big action, and a scary terrorist in the form of Djimon Hounsou. It’s all very convoluted, but all the moving parts are pretty meaningless, except those parts which explode, of which there are many.

In amping the action up to another level, “Furious 7” leaves all semblance of believability behind. This is a movie where two fast (and furious) cars play chicken, but instead of one car swerving like you’ve seen in every other action movie, the two smash head-on into each other at 60 miles per hour. The drivers, Dom and Deckard, then proceed to have a gunfight from inside their shattered cars, then get out and have a sword battle, except with giant wrenches and snarled pieces of wrecked vehicle. It’s almost gleefully oblivious.

It occurred to me, while letting this two-plus hour explosion-fest roll over me, that I’ve seen movies very similar to this, with the sweeping, spinning cameras and sexy girl montages, but had very different reactions to them. Michael Bay makes films exactly like this, but somehow the “Fast and Furious” production team (there’ve been a few different directors) are like Bay’s dopplegangers.

Instead of being big dumb action movies that are cynical and nihilistic and leave you feeling dirty, the “Fast and Furious” films are big dumb action movies that are about family and friends and doing the right thing.

Much like the rest of the movies in the series, I was left feeling impressed, but unable to offer my unreserved recommendation. Like the other films, the dialogue is adequate at best, though often cringe-worthy. The acting is better than the writing, but not much is really required. Vin Diesel has become insanely rich by finding a signature role where he can glower at the camera and mutter the word “family,” and do little else. And good for him — he seems like a legitimately decent guy and I’m happy for his success, but that doesn’t mean the movies are all that great. They’re solid, and they’re never bad, and that’s the key factor for keeping the audience.

At this point, having elegantly resolved the problem of Walker’s untimely death, Diesel and Co. could keep cranking these movies out indefinitely.

And, barring any major tonal shift, I’m sure I’ll be right there with them.

 

Grade: B-

“Furious 7” is rated PG-13 for language, lots of action movie violence, and mostly pointless montages of scantily clad women.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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