Maybe it’s appropriate for a film in which so many super-charged hot-rods make screeching U-turns, but Furious 7 never stops swerving recklessly between two very different moods. Just when you’re settling into a proudly silly action movie, somebody will make a grave speech about the importance of family. Then, just when you think that it’s actually a sober film set in the real world, someone will drive a car out of a plane and land safely on a mountain road several thousand feet below. And then, just when you’ve accepted that it’s a Road Runner cartoon with added tattoos, a sombre scene will remind you that one of its stars, Paul Walker, died while the film was in production. The tonal lurches are so extreme that some viewers are bound to get whiplash.
The first film in the series, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, was a relatively plausible thriller about an FBI agent (Walker) going undercover in a gang of illegal street racers. But every sequel has been bigger and dafter than the one before, and we’ve now got to the stage where Furious 7 is a cross between Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise and Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. Like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, it’s a high-tech global espionage caper featuring lots of computer hacking and a skyscraper in the United Arab Emirates. And like The Expendables, it is a dopey buddy movie packed with trigger-happy action heroes: in this instalment, Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa and Jason Statham (an Expendable himself) join a musclebound roster that already includes Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez.
Put those two franchises together and you get a film so extravagantly ludicrous that it could easily be a parody of Hollywood’s adolescent excesses. The majority of the dialogue consists of trailer-friendly, macho slogans; the male characters have biceps that would put the Hulk to shame; the female characters are usually filmed at buttock-level as they strut away from the camera in bikinis; and the plotting is head-achingly stupid, right from the opening scene. But nothing in the film is as preposterous as the digitally-enhanced action sequences, all of which ignore the laws of physics. Again and again, cars are smashed through glass walls, perforated with bullets, and thrown downward at breakneck speed, and yet the drivers are always fine and dandy. Even more remarkably, no innocent bystanders are affected by the destruction. In the explosion-heavy finale, much of downtown Los Angeles is razed, but someone seems to have had the foresight to evacuate the city first.
Need for speed
This logic-free, consequence-free property damage is never very involving. Once Diesel’s character has driven his car over the edge of a cliff, only to emerge at the bottom without a scratch, it’s safe to assume that alien invaders could obliterate the planet and he would walk away unscathed. (Something to look forward to in Fast & Furious 8, perhaps.) But if you are partial to amoral, petrolhead mayhem, there is no doubt that Furious 7 delivers the goods. It races from set piece to outrageous set piece at a pedal-to-the-metal pace, and the gleeful verve of the action just about compensates for its senselessness.
The snag is, though, that the film isn’t satisfied with being a numbskulled, testosterone-drenched fantasy. It insists on being a mushy sermon on the virtues of friendship and domesticity, too. Like The Expendables and its sequels, it spends most of its running time trivialising violence, and its remaining minutes being sentimental about the heroes’ brotherly bonds. The death of one gang member is treated as an agonizing crime against humanity, and whenever Walker’s character talks to his wife (Jordana Brewster), their exchanges are so morbid and mawkish that you would think he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The film keeps telling us that we shouldn’t take any of it seriously, but it also keeps telling us that we should take it very seriously indeed.
This flip-flopping would be jarring enough in any circumstances, but it’s especially painful in the wake of Walker’s death in a car accident in 2013. The screenplay was rewritten, and his scenes were rejigged, so that the film would serve as an emotional farewell to the actor and the character. And while the frequent references to his demise verge on the ghoulish, they certainly have the desired effect. At the screening I attended, the final valedictory montage had grown men wiping their eyes.
But there’s no getting away from the horrible irony that Walker died in a Porsche being driven at twice the speed limit. And there’s no denying the hypocrisy of a film that is both a tear-jerking tribute to a star killed by dangerous driving, and a meat-headed farce which asserts that dangerous driving is no riskier than a game of hopscotch. Furious 7 is sure to be the most lucrative entry of the series. But if you give it any thought at all, it will leave you feeling carsick.
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