If audiences want one thing from the “Fast and the Furious” movies, it isn’t plot.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers of “Furious 7” seem to have forgotten that while they were assembling the latest franchise installment – the loudest and most bloated entry yet.
“The Conjuring” director James Wan takes over for Justin Lin, working with series-mainstay writer Chris Morgan to deliver a script that sidelines a bare-bones revenge storyline -- perfect for showcasing the series’ signature car chases and fist fights -- in favor of an over-plotted scenario full of “who gives a damn” stakes. That frustrating choice frequently dulls the narrative’s momentum, derailing what could have been the franchise’s equivalent to “Man on Fire,” but with 100 percent more skydiving cars.
There’s fun to be had, sure -- who doesn’t love the aforementioned sports cars with parachutes? -- but it all goes down in a way that feels like “Furious 7” is over-committed to topping the previous set piece by doing more of the same. However, they’re only different-ish, not better.
All “Furious 7” had to do was capitalize on the promise of “Fast 6’s” end-credits tag: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, phoning it in) wants revenge for his battered brother, and the only way to get it is to hunt down Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (the late Paul Walker) and the rest of the crew.
Instead, the first 20 minutes or so is devoted to setting up that plot thread, while the next two hours largely let it dangle until it’s convenient to pick it back up.
Before they can get Shaw, Dom & Co. must first help shady G-Man Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) retrieve the God’s Eye – a super-computer chip/surveillance program. Team Furious has to get not only the chip, but rescue the hacker who can use it (“Game of Thrones” Nathalie Emmanuel). She’s held captive inside an armored bus with machine-gun turrets and a kick-happy Tony Jaa. Cue cars being used to punch other cars.
By the time Statham is reinserted into the action -- in a fashion akin to the random way Jason just shows up to do his thing in “Friday the 13th” movies – you’ve already forgotten why he’s there. You may also wish that you were watching something else.
The only thing worse than “Furious 7” trying to deliver a “real” plot is its attempt at “real” pathos. For years, the franchise has proudly worn its “Family or Die” themes on its “come-at-me-bro!” forearms, but rarely has it lead to such eye-rolling moments as any scene where Dom tries to jumpstart Letty’s heart into remembering why she fell in love with him. (Weirdly, their relationship – for all the passion the two talk about having, comes off largely asexual onscreen. The two share only one kiss, and it’s chemistry-free.)
Diesel’s limitations as an actor don’t get in the way (too much) of fans enjoying what few pleasures the film offers. Dwayne Johnson’s limited screen time is so welcome that you wish there was more of it.
The high-speed heist to steal the God’s Eye is great, and would have been greater if the marketing didn’t spoil Brian’s Hail Mary play that ends it. Speaking of Brian, the send-off the film gives the character and the actor who played him is tastefully done -- if perhaps one tug on the heartstrings too long.
Wan keeps the action lively, but it often devolves into a shaky-cam mess. He turns every exotic locale’s establishing shot into a mini music video, seemingly falling hard for the 360-degree helicopter shots his previous low-budget efforts couldn’t afford. He has a few inventive camera tricks up his sleeve, but the director plays the “camera rolls with a tumbling combatant” card one too many times – almost as much as the movie features characters using the “tuck and roll” method to escape from their about-to-crash vehicles.
“Furious 7” is full of sequences designed to please fans, but they mostly succeed at stretching the series’ already thread-bare credibility into disappointing places.
It would have you believe that Statham actually stands a chance in close-quarters combat with The Rock. Or that one can tumble eleventy times down a mountain, inside his car, and emerge with less than a hangnail. Or that a villain can survive not only being crushed by a parking structure, but also a helicopter firing missiles at it. Even for this series, that’s pushing it.
If only “Furious 7” paid less attention to the plot mechanics, and more to being the mindless fun we love, audiences would have a more worthy entry to inject the summer with some NOS.
”Furious 7” opens Friday nationwide.