“Furious 7,” the newest model in the careening yet indestructible “Fast & Furious” franchise, is directed by a guy better known for corpses than cars.
Australian James Wan came up in the horror ranks and gave the world the first “Saw,” as well as “Insidious” and “The Conjuring.” But if “F&F” fans feared that he would tamper with the box-office formula and end up slaying and gutting this cinematic golden goose for shocks and giggles, they can rest easy. “Furious 7” just may be the best in the line. And that’s quite an accomplishment, considering that: “Fast & Furious 6” is hard to top; and one of his stars, Paul Walker, was killed in a non-filming-related car crash as “Furious 7” was in production.
While Wan, working from a script by Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson, leaves his scare tactics at home, he still brings a revved-up sense of energy and kinetic choreography. That certainly helps when working with material that’s as dim-witted as drywall and loud as a Texas thunderstorm. A good action scene – and there are many of them here – can make up for a multitude of storytelling sins. (And it’s not in 3D in the U.S., always a plus.)
The film picks up where “6” left off, with federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) recovering in a Los Angeles hospital while the other crime fighters try to get on with their lives. Brian (Walker) is struggling to get used to domesticity with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and young son. Dominic (Vin Diesel) is reconnecting with girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was seriously injured in an earlier film and suffers major memory lapses.
But trouble just won’t leave them alone. It comes in the brutal form of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the avenging brother of the now-dead villain from “6.” He’s a renegade British black-ops agent, which means he’s both irredeemably evil and able to go toe-to-toe with the best drivin’ and fightin’ skills our guys can muster.
He’s going after the team one by one, killing member Han (Sung Kang) in Tokyo and sending a bomb to Dominic. Meanwhile, a secret government agency fronted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) wants Dom and his crew to help them get back a brilliant and beautiful hacker, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who was kidnapped by forces working for terrorist mastermind Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsey has designed a breakthrough global surveillance system that must not fall into the wrong hands. If they help Mr. Nobody nab Ramsey, he will help them with Shaw.
So Dom gets the band back together – including tech wiz Tez (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and would-be ladies’ man Roman (Tyrese Gibson) – for one more mission. From there, it’s a chase around the world from LA to Tokyo, Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi, and back to LA, but it’s really just an excuse for elaborately staged stunts in exotic locales. The vehicular dance of death along twisty roads in Azerbaijan alone is worth the price of admission, as it’s the stuff of action-fan fever dreams, especially since it pits Walker against Thai martial-arts star Tony Jaa of the cult-favorite “Ong-Bak” movies.
Speaking of Walker, there is a sense of sadness that hangs over the film, especially in a scene where his car’s brakes are failing, or when he’s saying goodbye to his wife. In the wake of Walker’s death, his brothers and CGI were combined to digitally reimagine him in certain scenes he left uncompleted. Though it seems like a crass idea, the process never appears obvious or fake.
Then just when it looks like “Furious 7” is lurching along on fumes as it descends into the usual third-act, action-movie exploda-palooza, it’s Walker who saves it. Wan turns the last few minutes into a tribute to the actor, showing shots from previous “F&F” films and sending theatergoers out with a lump in their throats.
Perhaps, this would be an appropriate time to pull the key out of the ignition on this whole phenomenon, to go out on a poignant, fuel-injected high. But, no, the eighth movie is in the works.
With “Furious 7” looking at a potential $275 million opening weekend worldwide, this is one franchise that’s unlikely to run out of gas.
B+ CAST: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson.
DIRECTOR: James Wan.
RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes
RATING: PG-13 (prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language).