To make a film in the Fast & Furious franchise you need three things: Flashy cars, hulking biceps lathered in baby oil and heart-pounding action sequences. What you don’t need are actors or plot.
Furious 7 keeps this tradition alive with a film so filled with screeching tires, machismo and surprising sentiment it almost distracts you from the abysmal performance of the lead and ridiculous plot.
In a London hospital, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham: The Expendables 3) stands over the broken body of his baby brother Owen (the baddie from Fast and Furious 6). Swearing vengeance on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel: Guardians of the Galaxy) and his crew of racers, Deckard hunts them down one by one.
He kills one and hobbles Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: Hercules), Toretto’s law enforcement ally, before finding Dominic. Toretto goes on the offensive, reuniting his team for one last ride — just as in the past three movies.
Dominic’s brother-in-law and partner in crime Brian (Paul Walker: Brick Mansions) is facing his own crisis. Now a father and husband, he’s chaffing at driving a minivan instead of a muscle car. He tells his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster: Dallas) he misses the bullets, and she worries that he’s unhappy with family life.
Can Brian settle into domesticity? Can Toretto and his gang defeat Deckard? Who is buying these idiots million dollar cars to destroy?
Director James Wan (Insidious: Chapter 2) continues a brainless and still popular formula as old as Sylvester Stallone.
The problem with Wan’s brand of mindless action is that it’s toothless. To earn the lucrative PG-13 rating, he must make a hardcore action film that’s kid-friendly. As a result, bullets and fists fly, but it’s a bloodless affair with seemingly few consequences. Women are dressed as sex objects, but to ensure parents bring their teens, there is no actual nudity — just plenty of up-skirt shots.
Wan does surprisingly well within the restrictions on violence and nudity. Two of the hand-to-hand combat scenes are brilliantly choreographed and paced. The fight between Johnson and Statham is a brutal highpoint with both actors throwing everything they have at each other. But the real star of these movies has always been the cars. When we’re watching preposterous physics-defying car chases, it’s a fantastic spectacle that perfectly complements a fistful of popcorn.
Impressively, Wan manages to inject a little sentiment into this ode to macho posturing. His tribute to Walker, who died while making the film, is both touching and fitting to the franchise. Wan and the editors should be credited for cobbling together Walker’s final performance using doubles, digital editing and the few scenes filmed before his demise.
What Wan and his team of talented editors couldn’t fix, however, was Diesel’s performance. Blank, meaty and potato-like in both expression and demeanor, Diesel is an abysmal actor. His lack of a human personality was less noticeable in the first films; here, with the addition of exemplary supporting actors, you notice. Both Statham and Johnson crackle with charisma, and international action superstar Tony Jaa commands the screen in a nearly wordless performance.
In spite of the wealth of action talent, Wan chooses to subject us to Diesel’s lumbering attempts at acting for seemingly endless stretches of film. Pairing him with Johnson and Statham seems like a cruel joke.
With fantastic action and a bit of heart, Furious 7 isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been — if you can ignore Diesel.
Fair Action • PG-13 • 137 mins.