Family Movie Review: Furious 7 (PG-13)

Furious7 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 137 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film has all the same elements as the others in the franchise so far: lots and lots of action sequences, including cars driving off cliffs, cars purposefully smashing into each other, cars flying through skyscrapers, and practically no one getting hurt; a lot of explosions, gunfire, gunshots, and hand-to-hand fighting that looks brutal; some cursing; some kissing; lots of women walking around in revealing bikinis and some lingerie.

The 'Fast and Furious' films just keep getting crazier and better, and 'Furious 7' is an insanely fun bonanza. It's a relentless thrill ride that still manages to pull on heartstrings, especially in light of star Paul Walker's 2013 death.

By Roxana Hadadi

If you were going to describe the "Fast and Furious" franchise to someone who for some reason was ignorant of this pop culture juggernaut, you could probably go with the words "cars," "family," and "insanity." There are no set pieces too elaborate; no cast member that isn't beloved; no storytelling that isn't too gonzo. Since the original cast members returned to the franchise with 2009's "Fast & Furious," these movies have become "events" in the best sense of the word, and "Furious 7" is no exception. It is silly and it is absurd and it is excellent.

It's impossible to talk about "Furious 7" without mentioning Paul Walker, one of the main stars of these films who died in November 2013 in a single-car accident in California. The film was only halfway through shooting then, and director James Wan (a new addition to the franchise who cut his teeth on horror films like "Insidious: Chapter 2"), screenwriter Chris Morgan (who has penned all the franchise's films since 2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"), and their special effects team had to regroup. Two of Walker's brothers were used as stand-ins. Advanced CGI was used to position Walker's face on their bodies, and recreate his voice. The film's release was delayed a year. And yet none of that is really obvious unless you truly look for it, mostly because there is so much other dazzling stuff going on and especially because the film includes such a fitting, fourth-wall-breaking tribute to Walker at its conclusion.

For a movie that excels in making cars do impossible, gravity- and physics-defying things; for a movie that has Dwayne Johnson literally flex his arm and pop a plaster cast off in one fluid motion; for a movie that has Vin Diesel growling like his tree-alien character Groot from "Guardians of the Galaxy" every chance he gets, those final five minutes will tap into your heart. And, for all their bluster and bombast, that's kind of the point of the "Fast and Furious" movies at this point. As Dominic Toretto himself says, "I got family," one that represents all skin colors and cultures and walks of life. And as viewers, we're part of that family, too.

The movie picks up after the events of 2013's "Fast & Furious 6," in which Dom (Diesel, of "Guardians of the Galaxy"), his brother-in-law Brian (Walker, of "Brick Mansions"), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), his back-from-the-dead soulmate Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, of "Turbo"), jokester Roman (Tyrese Gibson, of "Black Nativity"), and tech guy Tej (Ludacris, of "No Strings Attached") put a hurting on international arms dealer Shaw (Luke Evans, of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies") and were able to return to the United States, despite their criminal records, thanks to special agent and ally Hobbs (Johnson, of "Hercules").

But Shaw's older brother, trained assassin Deckard (Jason Statham, of "The Expendables 3"), is out for revenge, and he succeeds in killing one of the group's members, Han (Sung Kang, in a callback to the conclusion of "Tokyo Drift"), blowing up Toretto's family home, and landing Hobbs in the hospital. Deckard is hunting the group down, one by one, and no one is safe. What's the family to do but come together for one final ride to avenge Han and vanquish Deckard?

So much has changed, though: Brian is expecting his second child with Mia, and she's worried that domestic life is stifling him; Letty, still suffering from amnesia inflicted in "Fast & Furious," isn't sure she can return the love Dom is giving her because she can't remember all the 15 years they shared together. But this is a war the group has been pulled into and which they want to fight, out of loyalty and love, so when they're offered help by government operative Mr. Nobody (a hamming-it-up Kurt Russell), they take it. The trade is this: They save a hacker, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has been kidnapped by a terrorist, Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, of "Seventh Son"), for a piece of technology she's created, "God's eye," that can use satellites and cell phones to track anyone, anywhere. If they recover the God's eye, they can use it themselves to find Deckard and kill him.

And so it begins, and once "Furious 7" gets going, it just doesn't stop: a picturesque, winding car chase through the streets of Los Angeles after Han's funeral; Dom and Deckard revving up their cars and smashing head-on into each other not once, but twice; a glass-panel-shattering fistfight between Deckard and Hobbs that is a marvel of fight choreography; fights between Brian and a henchman of Jakande's played by martial arts master Tony Jaa that are even greater marvels of fight choreography; cars driving down mountains; cars flying off cliffs; cars smashing from one level of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another to another; on and on and on. If the bank-vault theft of "Fast Five" showed that this franchise can do the heist genre, and if the paranoid vibe of "Fast & Furious 6" showed that this franchise can do conspiracy thriller, then "Furious 7" proves that the franchise can adapt to "Mission: Impossible"-style pure-action globetrotting without missing a single beat. Not a one.

That's not to say that it's all insane stunts and set pieces; there are conversations here between Dom and Letty and Brian and Mia about their relationships and their futures that show there's a real beating heart underneath all the muscles and tank tops and exhaust fumes. There's an earnestness and a genuineness to "Furious 7" that is always there, even as these characters somehow survive the craziest of predicaments with barely a scratch on them, and huge chunks of Abu Dhabi and Azerbaijan and Los Angeles get destroyed, and the U.S. government, embodied by Mr. Nobody, tacitly lets it all happen. It's ridiculous, but the film never disrespects its characters, and that storytelling generosity helps keep this all afloat.

And, of course, it's the brotherhood between Dom and Brian that has driven this franchise from the beginning, and which is given important attention and narrative weight here. Diesel has been publicly mourning and remembering Walker since his death, including naming his recently born daughter after his best friend, and it's impossible not to think of that when Dom says toward the end of the film, "You'll always be my brother." For all of the fun to be had during "Furious 7," for all the silliness and insanity, there's an emotional core to this endeavor that really resonates. You won't forget a $3 million car flying through the windows of a penthouse anytime soon, but you also won't forget the film's dedication, "For Paul"—and that balancing act is what makes "Furious 7" so remarkable.

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