Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for pervasive violence and mayhem, suggestive content and brief profanity
Running time: 137 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
The late Paul Walker (1973-2013) was best known for playing Brian O’Conner, a charismatic lead character of the Fast and Furious franchise. During a break in the filming of this seventh installment, he perished in a fiery crash away from the set while being driven in a Porsche by his friend and financial advisor, Roger Rodas.
Putting the production on hiatus, director James Wan (The Conjuring) consulted with Walker’s family before deciding to complete the project. After revising the script, he resumed shooting, using Paul’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, as body doubles.
Between the delays and complications flowing from the overhaul, the picture’s budget ballooned to over a quarter-billion dollars. Nevertheless, the rewrite was undeniably well-worth all the effort, since “Furious 7” is easily the best offering from the series by far, for it’s the first to convincingly combine sincere sentiment with its trademark swagger and spectacular action sequences.
Yes, it remains mostly a muscle car demolition derby featuring an array of sensational stunts, destroying 230 automobiles along the way. But it’s also a touching tribute to the much-beloved Paul Walker, poignant homage carefully crafted to ensure there won’t be a dry eye in the house when the closing credits roll.
At the point of departure, we’re reintroduced to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a trained assassin hell-bent on avenging the death of his brother, the diabolical villain who met his demise during the climax of the previous episode. Deckard’s already killed Han (Sung Kang), so gang leader Dom (Vin Diesel) encourages his wife (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of his ragtag crew of mercenaries to regroup in order to avoid the risk of getting picked off one-by-one, since there’s strength in numbers.
However, coaxing brother-in-law Brian out of retirement isn’t easy, now that he’s settled down in suburbia and has already started a family with Mia (Jordana Brewster). By contrast, unencumbered playboys Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris) are game for another round of bombastic vehicular warfare, especially given the addition to the team of a cute computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) whose affections they can compete for.
After a bit of obligatory flirting and jive talk by the brothers, it’s not long before the plot plunges the mercenaries headlong into a familiar concatenation of fisticuffs and gravity-defying car chases punctuated by macho exclamations like “I’m back bitches!” and “Time to unleash the beast!” Yet, such simplistic non-sequiturs are effectively counterbalanced by tender exchanges with Brian (“You’ll always be my brother!”) during a denoument where he makes it clear that this dangerous adventure will definitely be his last.
A captivating combination of camaraderie and cartoon physics tempered by just enough nostalgia to tug at your heartstrings.