Review of “Fast and Furious 7”

Death comes for us all as we know. It doesn’t matter your economic status, your popularity on social media or how many movies and TV shows you’ve been in, one day the Grim Reaper comes to visit. With filming only half finished on “Fast and Furious 7,” star Paul Walker and a friend died in a fiery car crash. Reality came busting in to a film franchise that had grown increasingly fantastical with stunts, explosions and violence. While fans would have been disappointed, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the studio had decided to cancel the film; however, star Vin Diesel, who is also one of the producers, announced the movie would go on and be a memorial of sorts to Walker. While the series isn’t known for its emotional heft or deep meaning, the seventh edition pays a heartfelt tribute and says an emotional goodbye to both Walker and his character Brian O’Conner. I think Walker would have approved.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) visits his comatose brother Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in a hospital in London, vowing to get his revenge on those responsible. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is saying goodbye to his nephew, the son of Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) when he receives a cryptic call from Shaw. Just then, a package from Tokyo on Dom’s porch explodes, blowing the front half of the house to smithereens. At the Diplomatic Security Service, Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is working late when he sees someone typing at a computer who shouldn’t be there. It’s Shaw and he’s getting the information on Dom and the rest of the crew from the London adventure. After a brutal fight, Shaw throws a small explosive device that sends Hobbs out a window onto the roof of a car parked below. He’s alive but injured and in the hospital. Calling for Dom, Hobbs gives him the information on Shaw and that he’s a nearly unstoppable killing machine. Dom sees Shaw at the funeral for Han (Sung Kang) that Shaw killed in Tokyo. Giving chase, Shaw and Dom end up in a parking garage and ram their cars head on. Each gets out unhurt and Shaw is about to shoot Dom when armed men drop down on ropes and force Shaw to run away. Dom is held at gunpoint until Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) appears and calls off his men. Petty heads an unnamed covert intelligence unit and wants to strike a deal with Dom: He will help him catch Shaw if Dom will help get a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) away from an international terrorist named Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsey has developed a program that hacks into any online system or cell phone to track any person who is anywhere in the world near a digital device. Jakande wants the program and he will torture Ramsey to get it. If Dom and his crew are successful, Petty will let Dom use the program, called God’s Eye, to find Shaw.

The plot of “Fast and Furious 7” is overly convoluted and utterly unnecessary. All any of us wants to see in the film is suped-up muscle cars performing mind-bending stunts, pretty girls in bikinis and tons of fights: In that regard, “Fast and Furious 7” should make those who enjoy the series very happy. This film also serves as a melancholy goodbye to Paul Walker and his character. This sad aspect of the film is handled about as sweetly and emotionally as one could hope. While the film never slips into maudlin grieving, it is pretty obvious this was a difficult film to finish and cast and crew have handled it well.

While no one in the cast will win an Oscar for their performance, everyone delivers a fine job on screen. Tyrese Gibson, whose character went from angry young man to comic relief since he was introduced in the second film, provides some much needed levity to a film that could have slipped into melodramatic seriousness. Gibson’s scene in the airplane, which has been a part of just about every trailer, is hilarious. It also looks pretty spectacular. Vin Diesel cements his position as head of this unrelated family with a solid if one-note performance. Paul Walker, who I never thought was much of an actor, manages to dredge up some emotion and energy in his final go as Brian. He also gets some of the most exciting action scenes in his fights with a character played by martial arts star Tony Jaa. Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs is out of commission for most of the film but plays a pivotal role in the finale. I always enjoy Johnson in a movie, even a bad one. He pretty much plays the same character over and over again and I believe that character is himself. Michelle Rodriguez is given the role that is supposed to be going through the most turmoil as she’s fighting her growing feelings for Dom while dealing with her memory loss. That subplot is mostly forgotten to get the action and car crashes into the over two hour running time. It only resurfaces when the film hits an emotional peak. The rest of the supporting cast, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou are given minimal screen time and not much to do; however, they do it pretty well. Jason Statham is the film’s main bad guy and he, much like Dwayne Johnson, always seems to be playing the same character. Whether he’s the hero or the villain, Statham has a poker face that is supposed to have all this rage and violence simmering underneath. As the villain in “Fast and Furious 7” he’s pretty generic. The rampaging bull setting out to get revenge on those who hurt his sibling and we’ve seen it all before. Statham doesn’t seem to have any expression or emotion other than mild annoyance. That usually leads to a bone-shattering fight but it doesn’t really do much to sell the character’s motivation to cause so much mayhem and death. Part of the blame is on the script but the rest goes to the actor. Again, I usually like Statham in his films but this time his performance is a bit flat.

The real question on everyone’s mind is how Paul Walker’s character is handled and is the use of body doubles and CGI painfully obvious. Without giving too much away, Walker’s death is handled about as sensitively as it could have. Many parts of the film are the cast and crew saying goodbye to Walker. A tribute at the end showing Walker in all the “Fast and Furious” films in which he’s appeared is both a sweet and painful farewell. While the movie never dwells on the loss, it does pay its respects to the lost actor in a way that may draw a tear from your eyes. While there are a few fleeting moments when it appears the character of Brian isn’t being played by Walker, that happens in many action movies where stunt doubles are used. The most obvious of these is during fight scenes and doesn’t really detract from the rest of the film. Much like the times they digitally pasted Robert Downey, Jr.’s face on a body double during the shooting of “Iron Man 3,” the instances of digital manipulation, body doubles and dialog dubbing aren’t noticeable. The digital magicians at director Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital have done a masterful job of making Walker’s replacement seamless.

“Fast and Furious 7” is rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. Cars are jumped between buildings, dropped from aircraft, tumble down mountainsides, are buried in collapsing buildings, explode, and just about any other form of vehicular destruction you can think of. Many of these escapades leave the occupants only scratched or at worst unconscious. Parents might want to have a serious talk with soon to be or just started driving teenagers. There are also several fights that would have left people in the real world with at least a broken jaw and a concussion. Here, they just keep on fighting. The suggestive content involves bikini-clad women dancing while being sprayed with water and women wearing very short shorts. Foul language is limited and the film doesn’t take advantage of its one F-bomb.

The “Fast and Furious” franchise has grown on me over the years. While I found the early films unimpressive, the series has grown up and grown more insane and that makes it hard for me not to like them. They are like the video game Grand Theft Auto only turned up to 11. This seventh installment also has an unexpectedly strong emotional element as the franchise says goodbye to one of its founding fathers. Paul Walker’s farewell is both sad and hopeful in the film. The character of Brian will continue to be a part of the series if only in memory and I’m certain his name will be mentioned in subsequent installments and we’ll see him in flashbacks taken from previous films. Despite all the film’s numerous flaws, it is still a fun ride.

“Fast and Furious 7” gets five stars.

There’s only one new movie in wide release and it’s based on a Nicolas Sparks book.  Since I’m not a 13-year old girl, I’ll probably see something else but here’s the trailer for “The Longest Ride.”

What I’ll see…I don’t know but maybe it will be something small and in need of my entertainment dollar.

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