The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Furious 7

Furious 7 arrives with emotional weight that previous films in the series lacked. Star Paul Walker was, of course, tragically killed in a car accident during production. There is now something kind of uncomfortable about the fact that this whole franchise is centered around speeding cars and violent crashes. It feels like a celebration of the very things that took a fine actor from us before he had the chance to show the full range of his talent. But, in a weird way, it also forces Furious 7 to grow up, at least a little bit. The real actors playing these fake characters were, for at least part of the shoot, dealing with the grief of losing their friend. That comes through. Fast & Furious, released in 2009, signaled a shift in the series' focus. No longer was it about the underground street racing subculture; instead, the movies became international crime stories, with an abundance of gravity-defying stunts and absurd over-the-top action. Those things are in abundance here, too, only now they're tempered by a sobriety that grounds everything a little bit.

At the end of Furious 6, the gang took down a criminal named Owen Shaw. Now, his brother Deckard (Jason Statham) comes seeking revenge. He launches some no-kidding-around attacks on Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Walker). They know that in order to protect their extended family – which also includes Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Michelle Rodriguez – they're going to have to fight him head-on. Dom and the gang are soon approached by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a government agent who says he can help them find Deckard. He first needs them to rescue a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from the grips of terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsay has invented a new kind of facial recognition program that can almost instantly locate anyone, anywhere in the world. The race to find her, then find Deckard, begins.

Furious 7 has a lot of the same problems as its most recent predecessors. The dialogue is flat, the action scenes are over-edited so that it's not always clear what you're looking at, and situations often get so implausible that it becomes a distraction. (Did you know that, if you're really muscular, you can fall several stories and still survive, so long as you land on a car?) A bigger problem is that the two villains here are not especially well-developed. Deckard Shaw is a guy with a grudge...and that's about it. Statham obviously has a powerful presence onscreen, so why not give him more to do besides walk around scowling? Why not try to show the emotions behind his acts of vengeance? Hounsou comes off even worse as Jakande. We have no real idea who he is or why he's so evil. He's just a Generic Bad Guy, here only to give our heroes someone to fight.

Logic in Furious 7 is at a bare minimum. I know you're not supposed to think too much watching one of these pictures, but who wants to not think? Perhaps the most illogical bit comes in the finale, when Dom and Brian try to shuttle Ramsay around the city streets so she can accomplish a task before Jakande and his armed drone locate her with her own software. If they're so concerned about her being tracked through a facial recognition program, why not just have her wear a mask? Such questions are prone to take you out of the movie.

I will admit having loathed Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Furious 6. I found them insipid beyond measure. Furious 7, for all its problems, is admittedly not as terrible. Director James Wan (The Conjuring) stages the car scenes with the glee of a child making up crazy adventures for his Hot Wheels toys. A sequence in which vehicles parachute from an airplane and another involving a fancy sports car that crashes through the top floors of several skyscrapers are great examples. Yes, they are preposterous, but Wan is a lot better at the wink-at-the-audience thing than previous director Justin Lin was. He more effectively nails the Don't take this too seriously! vibe.

And then there's Walker, whose tragic end hangs over Furious 7 like an awning. Everything in the movie is filtered through our knowledge of his passing. For this reason, the story's themes of family unity ring a little truer. Walker's death necessitated some plot tweaks, and it's clear that they were done with true love for the late actor. There is nothing exploitative here, just a character arc for Brian that feels authentic while simultaneously making it apparent that everyone involved in this franchise feels the immense pain of their star's absence. Furious 7 ends with a tribute to Walker that is lovely.

Honestly, I thought I'd had my fill of The Fast & the Furious when I walked in. But who knows? Maybe there is still some potential to be tapped. For sad, deeply unfortunate reasons, Furious 7 had to evolve into something with at least a modicum of maturity. The cast members prove to be up to the task, as does Wan. These movies don't have to be just mindless mayhem. They can explore ideas and emotions while still delivering thrills. If Universal is going to keep making sequels, I'd be interested to see them continue down this path.

( 1/2 out of four)

Furious 7 is rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes.

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