Can a film be successful purely because of its special effects? That’s the key question around this seventh entry in the Fast and Furious franchise, and the answer is unfortunately obvious: yes, it can, and Furious 7 is going to be a success, in spite of the fact that there’s so much wrong with the movie.
A franchise built around flawed action heroes whose superpower is the ability to drive cars quickly is on shaky ground to begin with, but to squeeze film after film out of the same flawed group of archetypal underdogs means that the odds really are stacked against the “family” of street racer Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his partner Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), however earnest their motto of “family, not friends” is applied to the storyline.
In this installment, the crime boss that they foiled in Furious 6, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), turns out to have a super tough, former special forces brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who is hell-bent on revenge against Dom and his “family”. The film is propelled by a highly improbable story about genius hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) creating a program that can tap into all smart phones and surveillance systems to track down anyone, anywhere in the world. She’s been kidnapped by bad guys and it’s up to Dom and Brian to rescue her for the US government.
Federal agent Hobbs (fan favorite Dwayne Johnson) is injured by Shaw early on and spends most of the film off-camera recuperating in hospital, which is too bad as he has far more charisma than just about anyone else in the movie. Fortunately [tiny spoiler alert] he does reappear in the closing action sequences after a great scene where he pops a cast off his arm by simply flexing his massive biceps.
With Hobbs out of the main narrative, however, the Feds are represented by anonymous government spook “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell), who offers up unlimited resources for Dom to rescue Ramsey, and subsequent access to the surveillance software. Why? So Dom can track down Deckard and wreak revenge for him killing Han (Sung Kang) and trying to kill Hobbs. Vengeful killer versus vengeful killer. A perfect recipe for an action film, right?
And here’s something most reviewers won’t just say: the performances in Furious 7 were mediocre or worse. Notable bad performances were delivered by Michelle Rodriguez as Dom’s amnesiac wife Letty and Jordana Brewster as O’Conner’s wife Mia. Both of these actors have demonstrated in other films that they can do great work on screen, but with this movie they just walked through their roles, removing much of the “damsel in distress” energy that helps propel the franchise along (and its counterpoint of Letty as the tough woman in her own right).
To be fair, the action sequences are very well staged and occasionally breathtaking, particularly when viewed with the new laser projection system that IMAX has unveiled with Furious 7. If that’s your thing, then you’ll have a great time with the film and its trademark mix of wry humor, semi-clad women, ridiculously expensive sports cars and non-stop action.
If you think through the plot, however, there are more holes than you can double-clutch a Lamborghini through while blindfolded. I can’t reveal them without adding spoilers, but I’ll just say that even the most uneducated of hackers will get a good laugh out of how Ramsey’s program is transported from good guys to bad guys and back, along with her simultaneous apparent cluelessness about how it actually works and what even a simpleton could do to avoid subsequent identification from the Eagle Eye-inspired surveillance system.
I like a good action film and Furious 7 was enjoyable, a fun roller coaster ride. But like any themed roller coaster, the theme is just incidental to the fun. It’s the stunts, the cars, the women, the oft-banal mantra of “family, not friends” and the pleasure of a franchise that knows each film will continue to drive ticket sales almost regardless of its narrative.
Go into the theater with low expectations and you’ll enjoy Furious 7. Just don’t think about what’s going on, why, and people’s motivations too much and you’ll come out smiling, even if an hour later you won’t have a single memory of the story. And if you can see it in IMAX as I did, strap in. It’s quite a cinematic ride.