There’s more of everything in “Furious 7” (which is actually called “Furious Seven” in the opening titles). More explosions. More destruction. More impossible car stunts. More hair’s-breadth escapes. More bone-crunching fistfights. More exotic locations. More ludicrously bad dialogue. More noise. More terrible acting. Fans of the series will eat up the dish director James Wan (hitherto a specialist in the horror genre) has prepared for them, especially in Imax format—though that screen and sound system may make your eyes and ears throb or, at worst, bleed.
The reaction of most people to all the nonsensical hubbub will probably be to speak jovially of how efficiently the carnage is carried off, though in all honesty there are plenty of moments when the action looks CGI-phony. (A couple hundred million dollars still can’t make the computer-fabricated look convincingly real.) But in fact the maelstrom of mayhem very quickly becomes an orgy of stupidity, and a remarkably tedious one at that. Except for providing an occasional laugh (most often unintended), “Furious 7” is a huge, galumphing bore.
For those interested in the series, the picture hearkens back to the third installment, “Tokyo Drift,” while taking up from the surprise ending to the last picture. The central element of the plot is the revenge planned against the F&F team by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of Owen (Luke Evans), who was the villain our heroes took care of in “F&F 6.” Deckard also happens to be an ex-secret agent with incredible skills. After killing Han (Sung Kang) in Tokyo, he proceeds to Los Angeles, where he targets first Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who winds up hospitalized as a result, and then goes after Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), and the latter’s wife Mia (Jordana Brewster), who of course is also Dom’s sister. Eventually the rest of the crew—amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson)—will be called back into action as well.
Enter a new player, a super-duper secret agent type (Kurt Russell) who offers Dom an alliance: he’ll help the F&F crew track down Shaw if they’ll first free a computer genius named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who’s been kidnapped by international terrorist Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsey’s the inventor of a program called “God’s Eye” that uses all the surveillance cameras in the world to pinpoint the location of anyone, anywhere at any time—with which Dom could quickly trace Shaw. Unfortunately, to free her, the team has to airlift into Azerbaijan while in their cars and attack a convoy along a winding mountain road. The mission includes lots of high-speed action and close shaves and—naturally–succeeds.
It turns out, however, that the software has already been sent to Abu Dhabi, where the crew jet to infiltrate a Jordanian prince’s penthouse party and steal the muscle car in which it’s been installed, a theft that involves the Etihad Towers in some gravity-defying stunts that will require some window repairs. From there (after a firefight with Shaw) it’s back to L.A. and a prolonged showdown in the streets of the city with drones and helicopters, as well as cars, in the mix; streets crumble, buildings blow up, and one-on-one confrontations proliferate. Even Hobbs comes out of his hospital bed to join the fray.
Much of “Furious 7” is about the hardware—flying cars, a massive prisoner bus lurching off a mountainside with one of our heroes trapped in it, and the like—but it takes time to provide plenty of rumbles on solid ground, too. The nimble Thai star Tony Jaa is featured in some of them, mostly with Walker, but there’s also an extended cat-fight involving Rodriguez and a bevy of security gals in Abu Dhabi. By far the most amusing mano-a-mano episodes, though, are those that Statham has, first with Johnson and then with Diesel, especially the one toward the close. These protracted face-offs resemble the battles between dinosaurs in “The Lost World,” and the ones between Statham and Diesel are especially reminiscent of prehistoric urges since before trading punches the two men stare down one another from the seats of their cars, revving up their engines in a growl like those emitted by a beast of prey. It takes a strong man not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.
Performances mean little in this kind of action extravaganza, but Diesel continues to pose and deliver his lines in gravelly monotone, and the cutesy banter between Gibson and Bridges gets old fast. Rodriguez mostly looks pained, but Johnson hulks about with tongue in cheek, and Russell adds a smidgen of class to the mix. Like Diesel Statham does his usual thing and may live to scowl another day in yet one more sequel.
But the primary interest on the acting side will center of Walker, who died in a car crash during filming (though not, of course, on screen). Considerable technical manipulation was needed to complete his performance, using takes from previous movies, some stand-in work and some digital manipulation. The result isn’t perfectly seamless—his face seems quite deliberately hidden at a few points, for example; but it’s not as though the issue of whether it’s real or fabricated is going to come up during awards consideration. He was a handsome, likable guy, but the likelihood of his ever being thought an actor of note was always pretty remote.
Regarding other parts of the technical package, the lensing by Stephen F. Windon and Marc Spicer is flashy, though there’s an overabundance of locale-establishing montages cut with exaggerated bounciness by no fewer than four editors (Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri and Christian Wagner). The fights and other action sequences aren’t ideally crisp (the final L.A. street chases are especially murky in terms of geography), but they are bombastic, which is what the fans of this series demand, and Brian Tyler’s score is as well.
The only saving grace is that the racket and blaring music can sometimes drown out the miserably flat dialogue of Chris Morgan, which is mostly composed of hackneyed stuff comic strip writers might be embarrassed to put on the page. Certainly everyone would agree, for example, that it’s time that “Let’s do this” be permanently retired from the screenwriter’s lexicon—but here, in the Caucasus episode, it occurs twice in quick succession.
Of course, it’s perhaps time this franchise as a whole was retired. It won’t be, though: because “Furious 7” will undoubtedly make a mint, and the crew—apart from Walker—will keep on trucking.