Friday, April 03, 2015
Now playing at a multiplex near you:
FURIOUS 7 (Dir. James Wan 2015)
Up until recently, I hadn’t seen any of the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies. So, not wanting to go in cold, I watched the previous six entries to catch up with the adventures of FBI agent turned outlaw Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) and his ex-con BFF Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) before catching a screening of the latest, FURIOUS 7, which opens today.
I really wasn’t into the series at first – after the third one, TOYKO DRIFT (a stand-alone installment with different characters than the rest), I was wondering ‘when do these start getting good?’
But then I found four through six to be enjoyably stupid formula action films filled with ridiculous over-the-top stunts, of course involving cars but also planes, trains, tanks, etc., that are somehow ridiculously in-your-face effective.
Walker, perhaps the lead protagonist of the series, was killed in a tragic automobile accident halfway through filming, but he had completed enough that it’s barely noticeable that they helped flesh out his performance with his brothers (Caleb and Cody) acting as stand-ins with Walker’s face grafted on them via CGI.
As teased, Marvel-style in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS 6, this time Walker, Diesel, and their trusty team made up of Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster face off against Jason Statham as the brother of the previous film’s villain, something they borrowed from the DIE HARD franchise I guess.
Despite the fact that he hosted Saturday Night Live last weekend to promote this movie, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sits most of this one out as Statham puts him in the hospital after a brutal fight at the Diplomatic Security Service offices.
Statham also blows up Diesel’s house (yay - explosions!), and the two almost get into an epic brawl, but it's interrupted by a smug, Belgian beer-loving Kurt Russell as a government agent, pretty much the equivalent of the role Harrison Ford played in EXPENDABLES 3.
Russell introduces the film's McGuffin: a program called “God's Eye,” which can simultaneously access every surveillance camera on the planet. The device was developed by a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who's been kidnapped by a terrorist (Djimon Hounsou), and Russell, who calls himself “Mr. Nobody,” wants Diesel to get the gang back together to rescue Ramsey, and retrieve “God's Eye,” which will lead them to the sinister Statham.
This involves the movie's biggest money shot, in which our fearless (well, except for Gibson - he shows fear) team skydive five cars out of a cargo plane in order to hijack a convoy in Azerbaijan. This jaw-dropping sequence climaxes with Walker scrambling to escape a bus before it falls off a cliff, very ITALIAN JOB-esque.
After that we get another scorching set piece that has Walker and Diesel jumping a car between the Etihad Towers complex in Abu Dhabi. Shades of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL and, unfortunately, TOWER HEIST, are inescapable, but the scene is exciting and funny enough to transcend them.
The big finale comes down to Diesel and Statham, who is simply the best villain the series has ever had (take that, Braga!) in brutal one on one combat in a collapsing parking deck, with cutaways to the other characters' own action dilemmas in a chaotic orgy of cars, grenades, drones, and helicopters. Yep, stuff gets blown up real good.
Working from a screenplay by Chris Morgan, who scripted the bulk of the F & F series, James Wan (SAW, THE CONJURING) confidently takes over from Justin Lin (director of installments 3-6), and shows that he's as suited for slick formula action tropes as he is for horror.
FURIOUS 7 is an above average assembly line action movie (especially compared to THE EXPENDABLES 3), and will delight fans of the franchise, though the biggest fans of the franchise appear to be Diesel, who co-produced, and his crew themselves. Diesel obviously genuinely means it when he says such lines like “I don't have friends, I got family,” and the concluding tribute montage to Walker reflects that sweetly.
If I didn't know he had died I don't think I would've noticed that the work they did to cover Walker's absence. Whether CGI or his brothers as body doubles, the results are solidly convincing, and the movie stands as a fitting, heartfelt farewell in full.
And yes, I teared up a bit during that closing memorial montage. To steal a line from Phil Hartman's Bill McNeil from the great '90s sitcom Newsradio: “You would have to be a robot not to cry at that movie!”