“The Fast and the Furious” movies have elicited various emotions during their nearly 14 years (so far) of existence. Those feelings include souped-up Dodge Charger envy, Michelle Rodriguez resurrection confusion and various states of magnificent car collision awe. But this remarkably resilient Vin Diesel-goes-vroom-vroom franchise has rarely struck a note of genuine poignancy.
That changes with “Furious 7,” which unleashes the usual cockamamie car chases and Imax-ready explosions but also earnestly marks the final performance by Paul Walker. The actor — who plays Brian O’Conner, a.k.a. the pseudo-brother/partner-in-crime to Diesel’s Dominic Toretto — died in a 2013 car accident, an event that felt particularly tragic since he was primarily known for a street-racing film series featuring the catchphrase “Ride or die.”
Not surprisingly, the loss of Walker, who had shot a solid chunk of “Furious 7” before his death, hovers over much of the movie, particularly during a flashback-filled tribute to the star that gently ruptures the fourth wall between fiction and reality. On more than one occasion, longtime fans might find themselves getting misty.
But more often, it’s their adrenaline, not their tears, that will be flowing. “Furious 7” plays to the saga’s over-the-top action strengths, perpetually ratcheting things up a few notches even when it seems like all notch possibilities have been exhausted. In classic “Fast” tradition, there are ultra-intense fights in which bodies are flung into a dazzling array of glass surfaces; chase scenes in which cars tear through traffic, career down mountain ranges and even parachute-jump out of airplanes; and sequences in which $3 million smart cars leapfrog among a trio of Abu Dhabi towers far taller than the Empire State Building.
Through it all, both Diesel — whose vocal register continues to emanate from somewhere several sedimentary layers below the Earth’s surface — and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson utter lines that rival the ’80s-era output of Arnold Schwarzenegger. When Rodriguez’s Letty asks whether Hobbs (Johnson) is “bringing in the cavalry” to assist in a dire situation, the Rock responds the way only he can: “Woman, I am the cavalry.”
As usual, the plot of a “Fast” movie seems almost beside the point. But if you must know: After the loss of a friend and the bombing of his family’s home, Dominic goes on the hunt for the man responsible. That’s Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of bad guy Owen Shaw, who was targeted by Dominic and Co. in “Fast & Furious 6.”
This Statham vs. Diesel rivalry — which involves brutal fistfights and multiple games of vehicular chicken — could have provided enough fodder for the movie’s narrative. But because “Furious 7” screenwriter Chris Morgan and director James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) believe in going either crazy big or crazy bigger, there is a second, interconnected plot that involves Kurt Russell, the U.S. government’s desire to recover a tracking device dubbed God’s Eye, and the Toretto crew’s involvement in retrieving said device, which forces them to participate in dangerous missions that always begin with Roman (Tyrese Gibson), the franchise’s go-to source of comic relief, saying things like, “I’m all for winging it, but this is crazy!”
Yes, the whole movie feels overstuffed and overlong, and the non-action scenes are often dragged down by stilted dialogue. But “Furious 7” buzzes with a frenetic energy so contagious, there’s no sense in resisting it. Like its predecessors, this film has no shame about being its high-octane, gloriously ridiculous self. It’s also not afraid to sentimentally and respectfully honor Walker.
That combination doesn’t make the movie’s more absurd moments seem remotely realistic. But it does give “Furious 7” an authenticity deserving of respect.
Chaney is a freelance writer.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. 137 minutes.