REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
Can cars really defy the laws of gravity and fly through the air? Can Vin Diesel and Paul Walker repeatedly survive fiery explosions, fusillades of gunfire, and plummet off the sides of mountains with total impunity? Now, that I have seen “Furious 7,” I know that this is all possible.
I also know that even if a franchise star is killed in a real life car crash midway through the shooting schedule, that won’t necessarily preclude the project’s completion.
After the denouement of “Fast and the Furious 6,” Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his sidekicks have seemingly retired from their danger-driven adventures. In an amusing vignette, we see Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) revving the engine of his vehicle with a determined look on his face. However, it soon becomes apparent that he is driving a Chrysler mini-van, not a souped up muscle car. His two-year son is sitting in a car seat. Brian has transitioned into a domesticated lifestyle with his wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster), who happens to be Dominic’s sister.
The epilogue of “Fast and the Furious 6” teased the introduction of a new villain, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). He is the older brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who was the villain in that previous installment. At this film’s outset, a scowling Deckard stands above his comatose bother and foreswears revenge against those he holds culpable for Owen’s condition. Deckard is a former black ops agent. Now, the government had decided that he knows too much. They dispatch twenty elite S.W.A.T. agents to terminate him, albeit to no avail. As the camera pulls back, we see their dead bodies strewn on the floor. As Deckard exits the hospital, he sets off a massive explosion. It puts his brother out of his misery and kills anyone else on the premises.
Deckard heads to Tokyo, the site of “Fast and the Furious 3.” There, he begins avenging his brother by killing Han (Sung Kang). Then, he returns to the United States, where he invades an F.B.I. office and beats up Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). The site of Deckard pummeling the massive, heavily muscled Hobbs and tossing him out the window constitutes an awesome set piece. Next, Deckard mails a bomb to Brian. It explodes, leveling the O’Connor’s domicile.
Although Deckard has already proven to be a formidable villain, the film introduces another one just for good measure. It’s Jackande (Djimon Hounsou). He has a modest agenda-world domination.
Enter Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). He’s a glib, wise-cracking operative, who has some sort of ill-defined association with an unspecified anti-terrorism agency. He broaches an offer to Dominic. Mr. Nobody will help Dominic track down Deckerd, before he can assassinate any of the latter’s other comrades.
What’s the quid pro quo? All Dominic and his crew have to do is recover Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a computer genius, who has been kidnapped by Jackande. She had developed a software program, God’s Eye. The possessor of the program can use it to access any camera on the planet and track down anyone they like. If Jackande can induce Ramsey to turn over her newly designed program, it will spell doom for the world.
This portends the resurrection of Dominic’s crew. His wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was believed dead, is back, However, she is suffering from amnesia. High tech expert, Tej (Chris Bridges aka Ludacris), and handsome jokester, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), continue their good-natured badinage and ongoing competition for attractive women.
All of the roads to Jackande’s heavily fortified enclave are guarded by his troops. How can Dominic’s ragtag gang rescue Ramsey? Here’s a simple solution-just parachute them and their cars out of the bay of a giant airplane. What follows is an extended battle royale, which is exceptionally well orchestrated, if at times hard to follow. It is just one of the many adrenaline-pumping confrontations featured in this film. Along the way, we get to see martial arts stars, Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa, squaring off against Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez respectively.
It is not without irony that Paul Walker was killed in a car accident back in November. The film was far from completion. There was talk of scuttling the project. So, how did the filmmakers manage to obfuscate the absence of one of their key cast members? They recruited the deceased actor’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, to stand in for him in long shots. In scenes that require close-ups, they superimposed a C.G.I. facsimile of Paul’s face onto one of his brother’s bodies. This was a technique previously used by David Fincher to portray the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network.” Armie Hammer played one of the twins and his face was visually grafted onto the body of another actor, who played his identical sibling. Are the posthumous machinations used in “Furious 7” somewhat macabre? No doubt. However, it allowed the filmmakers to complete the project.
Justin Lin helmed episodes three, five, and six. However, for episode seven, he is replaced by James Wan. The latter’s résumé is dominated by low-budget horror films like “Saw” and “Insidious.” Some wondered aloud whether he was ready to tackle a logistically challenging, multi-million dollar action film, replete with location shoots in Japan, Azerbaijan, and Abu Dhabi? Wan demonstrates that he was eminently qualified to do so.
“Furious 7” may be ridiculous and farfetched, but it sure is a whole lot of fun.
*** PG-13 (for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language) 137 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.