Mark Reviews Movies

Furious Seven


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Wan

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Elsa Pataky, Lucas Black

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language)

Running Time: 2:17

Release Date: 4/3/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 2, 2015

Beyond the obvious financial reason, there is no good rationale that there are seven movies in this franchise about a group of street racers who, over the course of the previous six movies, became a criminal organization and then something of a team of crime-fighters. Here I am, though, happy that Furious Seven exists.

The other movies were preparation for this entry's giddy assemblage of over-the-top action sequences, or at least they were for me. I have not liked any of the other movies, although the second one had its charms and the previous movie seemed a step in the right direction. This one is filled with the same stuff that has become the series' hallmarks since the fourth movie: lots of fast cars doing impossible things, an established cast of characters who switch between performing impossible tasks and talking as if their lives mean something beyond being agents of vehicular chaos, and setpieces that exist solely to try to one-up the ones from the previous movies.

The other movies couldn't quite decide if this stuff was funny or just meant to inspire some cheap, visceral thrills. The seventh film has made a decision, and that decision is to have it both ways.

Here, we witness skydiving cars, and that's just the starting point of the first of the film's extended action sequences. We also see a sports car do its best impression of flying as it makes its way across a series of towers in Abu Dhabi, and there's also the bit involving a military-grade drone chasing our heroes through the streets of Los Angeles. Howard Hawks once argued, "A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes." I have just named three of this film's "good" scenes, and those are only pieces of three longer sequences. Those longer sequences contain anywhere between two and 10 "good" scenes. If there are any "bad scenes" to be found in the film, let's forgive them on account of the rest and call it a draw.

The story starts mundanely, with Deckard (Jason Statham) visiting his hospitalized brother—the primary villain from the last movie. The film quickly shows that it's willing to toy with our expectations, as Deckard walks through the aftermath of what must have been a rather violent scene—bodies of SWAT members lying dead on the floor, with a few survivors taken out by the grenade-happy baddie.

Deckard is out for revenge against the team that put his brother in the hospital. The team, of course, consists of Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (the late Paul Walker, who receives a surprisingly touching tribute in the film's final minutes), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris). Deckard kills one of their teammates in Tokyo, tries to kill the rest with a bomb, and butts heads with their federal agent friend Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) during a brawl in which the combatants show no sign of stopping when they arrive at plate-glass windows.

The plot doesn't matter, and screenwriter Chris Morgan seems to realize that. Why else would the revenge story stop in its tracks to swap the team over to an unrelated story involving a top-secret surveillance system? A shadowy government man who calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) wants the team to retrieve this "God's Eye" device from a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) who has been kidnapped by a ruthless terrorist (Djimon Hounsou). Deckard, of course, arrives at any given scene of destruction on a whim and without explanation. We suspect he's aware that we might forget about him if he stays off-screen for too long.

Over the course of these movies, the cast has built up a familiar rapport. That carries us through the downtime between the action scenes, although it's much more tenable for purposes of comic relief than for drama (The film still continues the silly amnesia storyline for Letty). The smaller moments of humor work better here than they usually do in this series, but that's because director James Wan recognizes that the real jokes are in the stupendously ridiculous action sequences (How else—other than Wan's decided sense of humor—do we explain that the skydiving cars land in a perfect single-file line?). Maybe this time they're ridiculously stupendous, and perhaps that's the reason they work. Either way, they work for what they are, and that's what matters.

These sequences aren't just exercises in random mayhem, either. They possess layers and levels—momentum and, as preposterous as it may oftentimes be, reason.

The skydiving scene is just the buildup to a lengthy chase on a mountain road that turns into a fight inside the bus containing the hacker. All of that builds to—not just one but—two cliffhanger moments, as Brian finds himself in a bus hanging off a cliff while Dom is forced to choose between a different cliff and a pack of gun-toting terrorists. The Abu Dhabi sequence progresses logically (Well, for this series, it's logical), giving us a fistfight between Letty and a Jordanian prince's chief bodyguard (Ronda Rousey) before Dom determines that, even though it may not be capable of flight, a car can certainly fall with purpose. The climactic sequence is a no-holds-barred assortment of "vehicular warfare" (between cars, a drone, and a helicopter), fistfights, and a flipping and free-running foot-chase (featuring Tony Jaa and providing the most noticeable example of Walker's absence).

It's all abundantly silly, but Wan and the actors are fully aware of that fact. The film winks, grins, and holds its tongue firmly in its cheek as the absurdity unfolds. Furious Seven may only be "good" by way of the Hawks Rule, but nonetheless, it's damn good at what it sets out to do.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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