For most of its running time, “Furious 7” is a terrible movie. All of the hallmarks that have earned this series notoriety are on full display: a ludicrous plot, insane stunts, laughable dialogue, and schmaltzy emoting about family and taking “one last ride.” At this point, though, I have to believe the filmmakers are doing it on purpose. No one writes a script this bad without knowing it.
Then, in the final moments, the film shifts gears and becomes something just shy of a masterpiece. The tribute to actor Paul Walker, who died in an unrelated car accident while “Furious 7” was being filmed, not only proves this series has a heart and a soul, but also redeems a movie that otherwise would deserve zero accolades. As the words “For Paul” quietly appeared on the screen just before the end credits, several in the packed opening night audience openly wept, and dozens stood and applauded.
It hurts when someone is taken early in life. And during “Furious 7,” it’s painful to see Walker on the screen. His first scene drew huge laughs, and indeed is one of the funniest moments in any movie released this year, but the burst of laughter in the audience seemed like a tension breaker to the crushing feeling I believe everyone felt upon seeing Walker. In that moment, I realized anew how watching a movie can be a communal experience. Walker truly did bring us together for one last ride.
People have wondered if the filmmakers killed off Walker’s character or let him live. I won’t give it away, but I will say I cannot imagine a better or more fitting homage to the actor. It celebrates life.
But the rest of the movie – what a stinker.
By now, audiences have come to expect a storyline that shoves believability where the sun doesn’t shine and then hammers in a cork behind it to make sure it stays put. Outrageous stunts that ignore the laws of physics are also part and parcel to this series. But never before has a “Fast” movie displayed such gleeful disregard for logic, gravity, and the frailty of the human body.
The plot: Dominic Toretto and his crew of professional criminals find themselves the target of Deckard Shaw, Owen Shaw’s older brother. For people keeping score, Owen was the baddie in the previous movie in this series, and his older brother is out for revenge. The film’s opening scene sees him assuring his brother, who lies comatose in a hospital bed, that he’ll take out everyone associated with his defeat, and then walking past countless dead bodies he singlehandedly killed to get inside. This sets him up as a villain with no regard for human life, and who will be very hard to stop.
Deckard’s first kill is Han, introduced in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” As Dom and his team set out to hunt Deckard down and take him out, they draw the attention of Mr. Nobody, the head of a covert U.S. government operation. Mr. Nobody is looking for a device called God’s Eye that can hack every connected device in the world and use the information it acquires to find anyone, anywhere. Some bad guys have it, and he wants it, so he recruits Dom and Company to get it in exchange for allowing them to then use it to find Deckard.
What the? So the U.S. government doesn’t have a trained military unit that could handle this? And no one on Dom’s crew realizes all they have to do to find Deckard is let him find them? Seriously, the storyline is slap-your-face stupid.
So’s the dialogue. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who returns as Diplomatic Security Agent Luke Hobbs, gets a few humdingers. Again, I have to believe writer Chris Morgan knew what he was doing when he wrote lines like, “I’m gonna hurt him so bad, he’s gonna wish his momma had kept her legs closed.” They not only play off The Rock’s persona as an action star but provoked a lot of laughter at the screening I attended.
The stunts provide the cherries on top of this huge slice of cheesecake. From cars parachuting out of a plane and landing on a road below, to Dom driving off a cliff and walking away after a devasgtating tumble down its jagged side, to Dom driving a car through the window of a skyscraper and crashing safely through the windown of another skyscraper, the stunts have the credibility of a snake oil salesman. Again, I have to think that’s the point. Even in the world of movies, when heroes and villiains show remarkable resiliency, there are limits to what audiences will buy. And juding by the groans I heard the night I saw the movie, no one was reaching for their wallet or purse. But Morgan and director Justin Lin must have known they were riding a horse that bucks violently against any notion of integrity, and decided to go for broke.
I suppose I’m a churl for complaining. These movies are clearly made in the spirit of fun, and if you can turn off your brain and just enjoy the ride, more power to you. The filmmakers certainly spared no expense in bringing this absurd spectacle to the screen, so you’ll get your money’s worth.
Just make sure you have enough cash to buy tissues, too. For Paul.
Three stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for violence and mayhem, suggestive content, and brief strong language. David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.