REVIEW: “Furious 7”

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The evolution of the “Fast and Furious” franchise has been an intriguing thing to watch. It went from being a goofy street racing franchise that I easily dismissed to a huge scaled, amped up action series that I have enjoyed. It’s a franchise that banks on its silliness and absurdity but succeeds because it never takes itself too serious and it knows what it now wants to be. I can appreciate that. Part of the charm of what it has become revolves around how cinematically insane they can make things.

2011’s “Fast Five” was the turning point for me. The drastic change in formula was welcomed and that film still has some of the best action sequences of the last ten or so years. It was followed by the less satisfying but still entertaining “Fast and Furious 6”. Now we reach the seventh film because naturally there has to be another film, right? Unfortunately the path to bringing “Furious 7” to the big screen has been a tragic and complicated one. On November 30, 2013, halfway through filming “Furious 7”, Paul Walker was killed in a car accident while on Thanksgiving break. Understandably this threw the film’s likelihood in doubt. After the film was confirmed to be still on, script rewrites and cast changes caused a number of delays.

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But now it has hit theaters and the question becomes can it sustain the crazy, fuel-injected fun that has won me over to the franchise? In a nutshell, yes. “Furious 7” hits every note that you would expect from this reinvented series. The characters are formulaic and cliche. The dialogue is sometimes silly and hokey. The action blows believability to smithereens. But (and this may sound nuts to some readers) those things are part of the weird charm that these films have. James Wan takes the directing reins from longtime helmer Justin Lin and he doesn’t make the mistake of tinkering too much with the formula. This is definitely ‘more of the same’ but for fans that’s a good thing.

The film begins by reintroducing us to the crew and giving us a quick rundown of where they are and what they have been up to. Dom (Vin Diesel) is working hard to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) with her amnesia. Brian (Walker) is struggling to put aside his love for ‘the ride’ for the white-picket fence, mini-van family life. It also addresses the killer mid-credits scene from the last film. As it turns out Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of the last film’s antagonist, is hot under the collar and seeking revenge on Dom, Brian, and their crew. After Shaw’s attacks get personal and deadly, Dom and company set out to get him.

The hunt for Shaw also pulls in Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who quickly feels the full force of Shaw’s resolve. Other familiar faces like Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris Bridges) show up and fill their established roles. Their automotive adventure takes them all over the world – The United States, London, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, and a host of other places. Say what you want about the series, but their recent use of locales is one of its real treats. It’s not simply that it has a global feel. The locations are beautifully shot and injected into the storyline.

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The story itself is pretty simple and the structure is basically set around moving things from point A to point B. It’s nothing innovative or new when it comes to the storytelling. When it is focused on its main revenge-versus-revenge thread it hits on all cylinders. But there are some moving parts that don’t quite work as well. Kurt Russell shows up has a US shadow agent apparently with limitless government resources. He’s after the ultimate hacking tool called God’s Eye. A well-funded terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) is also after it for obvious nefarious purposes. The entire side plot isn’t particularly well presented or compelling. They do serve to fill-in necessary potential plot holes and to set the table for some of the better action sequences, but that’s about all they have to offer. There are also couple of weird, almost obligatory, diversions meant to reflect back to street racing roots of the franchise. Personally I wish they would get past that.

The performances are about what you would expect. They range from steady and serviceable to pretty shaky. This installment does try to inject more emotional weight than the previous films and that’s when the performances struggled the most. But ultimately they get the job done and with the exception of Ronda Rousey (who to be fair is just there for a glorified cameo) none are distractingly bad. And I have to say that despite the flimsiness of his character, it was a load of fun to watch Kurt Russell having a blast with what he was asked to do.

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But let’s be honest and true, nobody goes to a “Fast and Furious” movie for the performances. It’s all about the cars and the action we can get a lot of both. You almost get the feeling that each movie wants to top the other one in terms of the craziness of the action sequences.  This one definitely takes things to a higher level and most of the sequences are pure adrenaline-fueled excitement. Even when they pull something totally absurd out of their hat, it works within these reality-defying scenarios. That being said, the big action finale was the weakest. It certainly has its moments but it’s too long and overthought. Ultimately I was ready for it to end.

The movie ends with the fitting tribute to Paul Walker and his character, something I was expecting. It’s done really well and that could be said for most of the movie. It’s not perfect and there are stumbles that keep it from being an action movie classic. But these movies have embraced this new direction and this installment stays loyal to that. If you didn’t like the last two films I would be shocked to hear that you like this one. It definitely does the same things. But if you are a fan of their new model, and you enjoy just sitting back and going with its wildness, I have no doubts that you will find some of that same entertainment in “Furious 7”.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

5 Phenomenal Movie Car Crashes

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Yet another “Fast and Furious” movie hits the big screen this week. I’ve always been indifferent to this franchise, at least until the last movie “Fast Five”. It got away from the illegal street car scene and gave us a more appealing full-blown action picture. It’s a franchise known for the crazy things it does with its cars. So in light of that I thought I would focus this week’s Phenomenal 5 on some of the biggest car crashes in the movies. Now obviously filmmakers have loved to do all sorts of damage to cars, trucks, semis, etc. so there’s no way I could call this the definitive list. But in the cinematic world of vehicular destruction these five movie car crashes stand out as phenomenal.

#5 – “CASINO ROYALE

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I cry just looking at this…

In 2006 Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” turned me into a James Bond fan. There is so much I love about this movie – the fresh cast, the new grittier and realistic feel. But there’s also a lot of 007 traditionalism which I love. One of those things is Bond’s love for sweet cars which leads to its inclusion on this list. Why Bond thought he could have a nice, romantic dinner with his girl Vesper is beyond me. She ends up being kidnapped by the deliciously evil Mads Mikkelsen. Bond hops into his gorgeous Aston Martin and pursues. Flying through the darkness at high speeds, Bond doesn’t notice Vesper’s tied up in the middle of the road until the last second. He makes a sharp turn, loses control of his car, and it flips and flips and flips. This may not be the most eye-catching movie crash scene, but it brings tears to my eyes every time I see that beautiful car being destroyed. *sniff, sniff*

#4 – “THE MATRIX RELOADED”

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The first of MANY flying cars…

The Wachowski’s caught the attention of a lot of people in 1999 with their science-fiction mindbender “The Matrix”. It was followed by the 2003 sequel “The Matrix Reloaded”, a film best described as three insanely good action scenes threaded together by loads of boring, coma-inducing blabber. One of the great action scenes features a frenetic freeway chase where a horde of agents pursue Trinity, Morpheus, and the key maker. This long, mind-blowing sequence features cars, motorcycles, SUVs, and semis, all being blown up, flipped, and rolled in ways you would never imagine. It may be a bit of a cheat to include this entire sequence, but there’s just too many phenomenal car crashes within it to single out just one.

#3 – “THE ROAD WARRIOR”

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Soooo many pieces….

The second installment of the Mad Max series was “The Road Warrior” and it’s still my favorite. This Australian post-apocalyptic action series put Mel Gibson on the map and featured some insane vehicular mayhem. The self-serving Max redeems himself by taking a band of murderous marauders on a merry chase along the barren wasteland. Along the way cars flip, roll, and explode but there’s one particular crash that’s especially vicious. At the end of this great chase Max finds his tanker truck steaming towards a head-on collision with the evil Humongous. Lord H has no chance whatsoever and when his tricked out metal machine meets the huge plow blade on Max’s truck at a ridiculously high speed, well let’s just say you could sweep up what’s left of him and his ride with a broom and dustpan.

#2 – “PLAYTIME”

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You can just see it coming…

There have been a wide variety of car crashes over the years but none have made me laugh as hard as the huge pileup in Jacques Tati’s “Playtime” from 1967. This was Tati’s final film featuring his beloved Mr. Hulot character and probably the director’s most ambitious. Nestled within this unusual film is a hilarious car wreck which all starts with a little yellow sports car speeding through an intersection. This sets off a chain reaction of funky little cars bumping into each other, sliding across the pavement, and spinning in circles. The following scene of everyone getting out and simultaneously stretching their stiff limbs is a great topper. It’s hard to describe this so that it sounds as funny as it is. Just look it up on YouTube. It’s well worth a watch.

#1 – “THE BLUES BROTHERS”

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The mother of all car crashes…

When I thought of doing this list the insanely over-the-top cop car pileup in the 1980 musical comedy “The Blues Brothers” was the first to come to mind. Aykroyd and Belushi drive their ragged ride to the “honorable” Richard J. Daley Center but not before leading a ton of Chicago’s finest on a high speed chase through the city streets. Through tunnels, under bridges, and hitting speeds of 120 mph, the chase tears through the town. That is until a quick left turn leaves a police car pileup unlike anything you’ve seen. Totally nuts but loads of fun. The Blues Brothers is remembered for a lot of things – the hilarious script, the great songs. But I’ll never be able to think of this film and not recall this phenomenal scene! If you haven’t seen it, hop to it.

So there are my five phenomenal movie car crashes. With so many great ones to choose from, I can’t wait to see your favorites. Please take time to comment and share your picks!