‘Furious 7’, Review

the starring cast
I’ve been avoiding this franchise since 2001 with the release of “The Fast and the Furious”. I never felt any animosity toward the franchise but it always looked like a movie for meatheads and car buffs and not necessarily a franchise made with my taste in movies in mind. Fast forward to 2015 and the podcast I work with, Wrong Reel, decided to record an episode about “Fast Five” (2011). I wasn’t about to go into that recording unprepared so I dutifully ripped through the entire franchise. The first four movies were everything I feared they would be, but at the finale of the fourth installment, “Fast & Furious” (2009), I noticed an abrupt shift in tone. It was as if Justin Lin (who directed 3, 4, 5 & 6) suddenly said, “Let’s make them superheroes” and completely abandoned the street racing, petty crime and relatively grounded tone that characterized the first few movies. As a case study in how to reinvigorate a dying franchise I can think of few better examples. The last three movies in the franchise feel like superhero movies where the powers have been replaced by fast cars and audiences around the world appear to have completely embraced this new approach. A perfect example is the character of Tej played by Ludacris who in “2 Fast 2 Furious” was basically a gambler who made a living supervising races, but is now one of the world’s greatest computer hackers along with being a hand to hand combat expert. Rather than laugh at this leap, fans mostly applaud this sudden acquisition of skills and expertise by all the principal cast members. Sadly I remain unengaged with this franchise, one that clearly brings so much joy to its diehard fans, but there is enough entertaining material in the latest installment to make it worth discussing.
The first thing worth mentioning is the exit of director Justin Lin and his replacement by horror maestro James Wan. Personally I wish Wan would stick to scaring the hell out of me with movies like “Insidious” (2010) and “The Conjuring” (2013) but he very capably takes the reigns with this movie and delivers all the car chases, fight scenes and all around hell raising one hopes to see. The cast for the most part is in fine form. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson continue their comedic bromance while Paul Walker and Vin Diesel ***spoiler alert*** share a fitting tribute to their friendship at the finale that had me suddenly misty-eyed. I’ll blame that on the pollen in the air with the arrival of Spring. The theater should do something about that.

Ronda Rousey, the main reason I went to see this movie.

The real reason I went to see this movie was to see my favorite athlete of all time, UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist Ronda Rousey. She takes on Michelle Rodriguez at the top of a skyscraper in Abu Dhabi and while the melee is not the world’s greatest fight scene I’ve ever witnessed I’m enjoying watching Ronda take advantage of her newfound celebrity from beating the hell out of people in the Octagon for the UFC. It is worth mentioning that my rabid interest in watching MMA and the UFC is the main driver in my lack of interest in most conventional action movies. I prefer the real thing unless the participants happen to be wearing colorful costumes and bringing all my favorite comic book characters to life. But that is a subject for another post. A great new addition to the cast was action superstar Tony Jaa. He and Paul Walker definitely can lay claim to the most interesting fight scenes in the movie.

Director James Wan and action superstar Tony Jaa

Director James Wan and action superstar Tony Jaa

My main grievance with this movie is the screenplay, which is easily the worst in the series since “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006). With these movies, I don’t expect something worthy of Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman (who co-wrote my favorite screenplay, “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957)) but the writers of “Furious 7” wrote a completely witless, irrelevant pile of shit. And I’ll tell you why. The point of this movie is to find and kill Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham) before he hunts down and kills all the members of La Familia for what they did to Shaw’s brother in “Fast & Furious 6” (2013). To do this, Dom Toretto and his team join forces with a secret agent played by Kurt Russell to secure a gadget called God’s Eye that is basically the world’s greatest surveillance program allowing access to every camera on the planet making it impossible for anyone to hide from whoever wields the device. To find this device, La Familia engages in two high-stakes action sequences that form the thrust of the movie. What makes the story so ridiculous, however, is that at every turn, Statham’s character shows up and tries to kill them. Rather than just stand and face him, La Familia continues on their elaborate journey to find God’s Eye even though it is completely irrelevant. The guy they want to kill shows up every five minutes, but they don’t seem able to piece together that all their work is for nothing. Structurally it appears as if the screenwriters wrote a first draft, patted themselves on the back, and then nobody bothered reading it ever again. Anyway, the story all comes to a head in the streets of downtown Los Angeles fighting some ridiculous drone that seems more appropriate in a Batman movie, but at least the locale fits considering the roots of the franchise. Nonetheless I was getting very bored and exhausted by the end of the movie. So I’ll close with saying, if you’re a fan of the franchise you’ll likely remain a fan. I’ll be curious to see if James Wan’s approach rubs any hardcore fanatics the wrong way, but overall the movie accomplishes what it sets out to do. For my part, however, when I want action I’ll be sticking with the UFC.

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Some fantastic shots of the cast in training for the film:

Vin Diesel and Tony Jaa