A critic friend recently asked for advice on Facebook on how to write reviews for genres she’s not familiar with, or particularly like. I answered with the philosophy I try to bring to this situation, which is to find a delicate balance between being honest about my feelings for the genre, while trying my best to figure out whether or not the film at hand will satisfy its fans.
Even though I’ve seen them all (The last four because I had to review them, the first three because I’m a masochist), I’m not a big fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, which I categorize as Star Trek for petrosexuals. As I rolled my eyes while a trivia contest was going on before the screening, full of, shall we say, blue collar enthusiasts of cars, bullets, cracked skulls and bouncing boobies, yelling out the most inane details to win some sweet swag ("What kind of a sandwich did Vin Diesel eat in the first movie?" was an actual question), I thought to myself, "This is how a jock in a Trekkie convention must feel".
Now that we got my personal feelings about the franchise out of the way, I can honestly say that after seven films, I’m well versed in the basic requirements for a Fast & Furious movie. From that standpoint, Furious 7 should be more than satisfactory for fans of the franchise and, dare I say it, is perhaps the best one of them all. This is faint praise, I know, but it’s all I’m willing to give.
I have a feeling that the phrase "Why the f—k not!?" was uttered a lot during the production of Furious 7. The movie is not only the definition of excess, but a word hasn’t even been invented to describe how far over the top it goes in terms of insanely unbelievable yet goofily entertaining action sequences. It contains at least four of the kinds of balls-to-the-wall action set pieces that used to close an expensive blockbuster. So yes, you get to enjoy a bunch of action movie climaxes, without much of a story in between.
As usual, the plot is deceptively simple. This time, we get a pedantic revenge angle, as the older brother (Jason Statham) of the bad guy du-jour from the last movie goes after Dom (Vin Diesel, who hasn't met a line he can’t incomprehensively mumble) and his "familia" full of roided-up meat bags. In order to track the bad guy down and bring a whole heap o’ hurtin’ on his ass, Dom and his team are hired by a mysterious spook named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russel, who we all know is a master on how to handle schlock like this), to track down a device that can hack into every camera and phone in the world.
From this point on, Furious 7 turns into Mission Impossible: Meathead Edition, as Dom’s team circles the globe in search of this McGuffin called (Do you really care?) “The God’s Eye”. I find it amusing that, during a heist where Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) are supposed to steal a multi-million dollar car from the top of a skyscraper, they are decked with every high tech device imaginable to get the job done, only to rely on The Diesel’s sweet pectorals to lift the car for a vital part of the operation.
I usually give these movies between 1.5 and 2 stars. I think the half star uptick in quality can be credited to director James Wan, who helmed his first action flick after a long career in horror. Whether or not the despicable Death Sentence counts as action is up to you. Horror filmmakers usually turn into good action directors because they know how to push the confines of a genre. Wan understands that there are no limits on how much to push the fans’ unrealistic expectations of testosterone on display, enough to have a main character break out of his arm cast without even using his good arm.
He also dials down the series’ worst quality, a penchant for lame soap opera dramatics, in favor of a couple more insane action set pieces. Of course, it’s impossible to get away from sentimentality when this is the last film Paul Walker made before his tragic death. It would have been fine to include a thirty-second or so tribute to Walker at the end. But the five-minute music video we get is overkill.
With each installment, lack of tension becomes a big issue. After witnessing many a character walk out of certain death situations unscathed, it becomes extremely hard to care if anything is even going to happen to them. We’re expected to worry about a character’s fate after his car tumbles down a small building. How can we, while five minutes earlier we watched a drone missile hit the driving side of a truck, only for the driver to pop out as if he’d just been through a minor fender bender?
At this point, for the producers to raise the stakes even higher, I’m afraid the next installment is going to be Furious & Furious: In Space!!! Knowing the trajectory of the franchise, this is entirely plausible.