[Screen It]


(2015) (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker) (PG-13)

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Action: A team of criminal thrill junkies must reassemble when the ruthless brother of a former nemesis targets them all for death.
Deckard Shaw (JASON STATHAM), a trained British special forces assassin, vows revenge on those responsible for his criminal brother being on life support. His target is Dominic Toretto (VIN DIESEL), an ex-con who has formed a crew of car junkies/master thieves over the years that has become something of a surrogate family. They include his brother-in-law, Brian (PAUL WALKER), a former cop turned criminal; Dom's sister and Brian's wife, Mia (JORDANA BREWSTER); Dom's amnesiac wife, Letty (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ); computer whiz Tej (LUDACRIS); and show-boating thrill seeker, Roman (TYRESE GIBSON).

When Deckard proves relentless, Dom is recruited by an enigmatic black operative who calls himself Mr. Nobody (KURT RUSSELL) to rescue a kidnapped computer hacker named Ramsey (NATHALIE EMMANUEL), who has invented a software program that can literally track and find anyone on the planet within a matter of minutes ... even seconds. She is being held prisoner in Azerbaijan by a terrorist named Jakande (DJIMON HOUNSOU) and his chief henchman, Kiet (TONY JAA).

Dom also receives help from FBI agent Hobbs (DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON), a one-time nemesis who has come to respect Dom and his crew. Hobbs is gravely wounded early on and confined to a hospital bed. But when the action moves to Abu Dhabi and then back to Los Angeles, he can no longer lie still and not get involved.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
The great thing about the "Fast and the Furious" series is what mindless fun the various installments, especially the fifth and sixth ones, have been. The filmmakers have really thrown all logic, reason and, well, sense of gravity out the window. Realism and believability? Gone! Where'd they go? Don't know! In their place has been the most outlandish, sublime sense of fun one can imagine. Sure, these blockbusters have proven appealing because they are the only big-budget, studio blockbusters out there that truly embrace multiculturalism and what much of the American and global movie-going audience actually looks like. At the same time, in an era where previously fun franchises like Batman and James Bond have gotten increasingly, almost relentlessly darker ... these films remind us why we go to the movies in the first place. Escapism!

Not so with "Furious 7." The death of series star Paul Walker hangs over the entire film like a dark cloud. I tell ya, this was one of the strangest movie-going experiences I've had in some time, folks, watching Walker and his pals survive car crash after car crash. And these aren't fender benders they're walking away from unscathed either. We're talking cars plunging off freakin' ravines, bouncing end over end, with people inside crashes. We're talking buildings crumbling down on top of their cars, games of "chicken" in which two vehicles slam directly into each other, head-first, going at least 100 miles per hour each. There are at least a half-dozen times where the driver and/or passenger bails before his or her car is about to crash. And, each time, they hit the pavement HARD, rolling for several feet .. but walking away with nary a bruise or any significant blood loss.

In the previous films, this was all glorious Wile E. Coyote-Road Runner fun. But Walker's presence throughout "Furious 7," with the audience knowing from scene to scene that he was only days away from meeting his fate in a gruesome, real-life crash, add tinges of sadness to each of the major set pieces. "Oh, if only it were so" you find yourself muttering to yourself sadly at the end of the big crashes and pile-ups rather than with the previous films where you were muttering to yourself: "Oh, cool! If only it were so! That would be bleepin' AWESOME!"

That said, the new film doesn't miss a beat in delivering the same level of thrills and spills that have come to define this kooky, crazy, made-up world of vehicular mayhem. "Furious 7" still aims to flat-out dazzle and entertain, adding in moments of poignancy here and there to let the audience know that, "Yeah, we know. We DO know." Pretty much everyone's back from the previous movies, and this time the plot is structured as a fairly simple revenge narrative with Jason Statham's rogue assassin Deckard Shaw hunting Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto and his extended family of relatives and surrogate relatives for maiming his brother in the previous flick.

The action takes the story from London to Los Angeles to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back to L.A. And there are few police around in any of those locales to deal with the amount of insane vehicular mayhem that Dom and his crew are responsible for yet again. In addition to this being Walker's last movie, "Furious 7" will be remembered for the flat-out ridiculous stunt (mostly CGI) of Diesel's Dom driving a stolen sports car through three successive skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi to elude Statham. The stunt is so spectacular that everything that comes after it (the film's third act) pales in comparison. But it's in there and worth paying to see.

In addition to Statham, the series keeps picking up new cast members and carrying them over into the next flick(s). This time around, we get Kurt Russell's enigmatic black operative "Mr. Nobody," who sends Dom and family off on the hunt for a McGuffin -- a hacker who has created a program that can locate anyone, anywhere on the planet in a matter of minutes -- to thwart a terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) and gain a tactical advantage over Deckard. Russell is having a lot of fun here, as is the returning Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who actually gets to flex his biceps and rip out of an arm cast, straighten his broken bones, and join the action-packed climax just in time.

Oh, if Walker just hadn't gotten into that car! But he did. And so with each action sequence he appears in here, there is some off-putting tension that his Brian could get killed and that's the last time we'll ever see the guy. I will say I am surprised by how much Walker is actually in this film. I know director James Wan and his FX team were able to use everything from computer trickery to body doubles to even Walker's own real-life brothers to complete scenes he had yet to shoot. The end result is pretty seamless. But, man, when they're at a gravesite early in the film and Tyrese Gibson's Roman is shaking his head and saying, "I can't take it, Brian. I can't do anymore funerals!" or later in the film when Brian stands over a bad guy and comments on how he should "enjoy his last meal," it's hard to block out the real world.

This is a film all concerned had to get through, get over, and get past. The fans of the series must do the same. Overall, it's a job well done and, ultimately, a fitting tribute to both the late actor and his character. I won't dare give away whether Brian lives or dies in this review. But I will say that this series WILL live on. I rate "7" a solid 6. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed March 31, 2015 / Posted April 3, 2015

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