In theaters Friday, April 3
3 stars (out of 4 stars)
Hey, action flicks aren’t supposed to make you cry!
But that’s what happens during this movie’s closing-montage tribute to star Paul Walker. It’s touching and — here’s a word that has likely never been used during this franchise’s 14-year history — incredibly classy.
Until then. . . . ? Buckle up for a high-octane, fast-paced adrenaline rush that revels in its own ridiculousness. Nobody will ever confuse this with a Best Picture Oscar nominee (no matter how hard Vin Diesel tries to sell it as such), but it deserves props for delivering exactly what fans crave.
Bonus: It’s no big deal if you haven’t seen a Fast & Furious film since the 2001 original (uh, if you catch my Tokyo Drift). Walker’s ex-cop Brian O’Conner, dragsters Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have all now joined forces, and they’re joined by characters played by Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson. Meanwhile, Brian is now married to Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and they have a child. Dwayne Johnson also returns as the group’s connection in law enforcement, albeit his role here is more of a glorified cameo.
This time, the gang is targeted by a baddie (Jason Statham) — who’s the brother of the baddie they pummeled in installment No. 6. And this guy is serious about staking revenge: Within the first 20 minutes, he plants a bomb outside Dom’s house and goes mano a mano with Johnson. To track the baddie down, our heroes must first find a gizmo that can hack into every Smartphone on the planet and rescue a kidnapped hacker.
All this convoluted nonsense is just a means to stage dazzling, vertigo-inducing stunts. In a wildly fun whirl, the guys ride off the side of an airplane in-flight, crash a car through the glass windows of the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi and motor through the streets of L.A.
Meanwhile, they toss off lines such as, “I am the cavalry!” and “Daddy’s got to go to work!” They’re so dumb and clichéd that it’s a wonder how the actors recited them to the camera with straight faces. Yet the audience in my screening lapped them up. And why not? If you want a flat, self-serious and heavy-handed slog in this genre, go see The Gunman.
(Director James Wan could have reined in the babes-in-bikinis slow-mos and close-ups, though. Obviously the film is aimed squarely at dudes, but did Wan have to make his onscreen dudes do so much ogling? This isn’t supposed to look like a Furious film spliced in with lost scenes from Girls Gone Wild.)
The goal is to enjoy the fun and not fixate on the eerie parallels of Walker’s 2013 car crash. And, admittedly, it’s difficult to do so as Brian sheds tears during a friend’s funeral, promises his wife that this is his last mission and, argh, rides shotgun in a sleek sports car with faulty brakes. You see Walker and his gleaming smile lights up the screen, and the mind wanders: Is this stock footage? When did he film this? Is Brian headed for doom as well?
Indeed, Walker might not have been the flashiest star of this franchise, but he represented its soul. And you better believe that he’s going to be missed in the inevitable eighth edition. But it’s heartening to know he gets a touching send-off that stirs fond memories — and lets his costars pay their respects as well. When Diesel talks solemnly about the importance of his “family,” the sentiment is achingly sincere.