'Furious 7' keeps speeding ahead
The cast is bigger, the action is crazier, and the "Fast and Furious" franchise, now seven films in, continues revving its mighty engine.
"Furious 7," whose title sounds like a bloody western revenge tale, is the series' most souped-up installment yet. The core cast is back in full, including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, as well as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who joined two films ago when the franchise was running on fumes and kicked it into overdrive.
The new film adds Jason Statham as a bad guy, Kurt Russell as a shady government official, "Game of Thrones" Nathalie Emmanuel as a super-hacker and UFC bruiser Ronda Rousey as a butt-kicking bodyguard. If that's not enough, Lucas Black also makes a brief return, his first since starring in "Tokyo Drift," the series' black sheep third installment.
But even with all those bodies — its cast is the most ethnically diverse of any major franchise — the real stars of these films are the bonkers action setpieces, and "Furious 7" achieves new high points in that department. The script is centered around a couple of scenes so bananas they had to have been conceived inside a Red Bull fever dream: Can cars skydive out of an airplane? Can they smash from one skyscraper to another? If you can dream it, the "Furious 7" team — which now includes "Saw" director James Wan in the driver's seat — does it.
In between those sequences, which are true blue jaw-droppers, there are some schmaltzy scenes where characters talk — or grunt, in Diesel's case — about the concept of family while setting up excuses to skydive cars out of an airplane and smash from one skyscraper to another. The motivations have something to do with Statham's character seeking to avenge his brother's death (he was killed in "Fast & Furious 6") and a mysterious Big Brother-on-steroids surveillance program called "God's Eye," but coherence is not a strong point.
There's a truly "Dynasty"-worthy subplot about Rodriguez' amnesia-suffering character seeking to regain her memory, and in one scene Diesel lifts up the front end of a car using his own two hands. So when another big action scene comes racing along, no one is crying for the loss of smaller moments.
Which is not to say the film doesn't have heart. "Furious 7" acts as a tribute to Walker, who died in November 2013 before filming was completed. His character, Brian O'Conner, spends much of the film wrestling with settling down and giving up a life of daredevil stunt driving, and the film's final frames — completed with the help of Walker's brothers — give him a touching send-off. Yes, the "Fast and Furious" movies are about roaring engines and speeding cars, but Walker and Diesel were the brotherly blood pumping through its veins, and the sentimental finish is earned.
Yet, while the film is Walker's last, the series shows no signs of slowing. Its imaginative stunts, enormous cast and thrilling sense of constant one-upmanship can keep it driving into the sunset — or, at the rate it seems to be headed, to infinity and beyond. Vroom vroom.
Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language
Running time: 140 minutes