Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"I don't have friends, I got family."

By rights, Fast & Furious 7 should be spluttering on empty. Very few franchises ever reach such a number, and those that do hardly serve up memorable movies. Factor in a new driver behind the wheel and you might expect the series to stall. Then consider the tragic death of star Paul Walker midway through the shoot and it's a frankly miracle that Fast & Furious 7 even made it off the starting grid.

So it's great to report that horror maestro James Wan (The Conjuring) has fashioned a nitro fuelled thrill ride that forms a fitting tribute to its blue eyed brother. 'For Paul' reads the dedication, and so fast, furious, crazed and heart on sleeve emotional is this gloriously ludicrous instalment that it almost becomes impossible to see where an eighth could go.

The action picks up precisely where Fast & Furious 6 (2013) left off. That outing's villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), is comatose in hospital, and his scowling older brother Deckard (Jason Statham) is out for revenge. After an outrageous tussle with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) at his DSS offices in LA – a regular film's entire budget is blown on throwing the pair through plate glass windows – Deckard heads to Tokyo to murder Han (Sung Kang) and return the franchise to a present that leads off from the third chapter, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006).

From there it looks as though Dom (Vin Diesel) and his 'family' (Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris) will be picked off one by one unless they agree to work for shadowy government man Petty (Kurt Russell) to retrieve computer genius Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from the evil clutches of terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). We soon discover that Ramsey has created a unique tracking device, known as the God's Eye, which uses social media, mobile devices and surveillance systems to track down anyone, anywhere. Soon the gang ricochet between Tokyo, the Dominican Republic, Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi and LA in search of the God's Eye, which will ultimately help them track down Shaw – a premise somewhat undermined by the fact that Shaw himself is in hot pursuit at every turn. But to appraise the plot in too much detail would rather miss the point.

Given the rewrites and schedule juggles necessitated by the production's shutdown, it's arguably inevitable that the plot is occasionally jarring and the film ill balanced – having Hobbs disappear for the entire midsection leaves a Rock sized hole in the screen. There are other niggles, too. Or rather seismic grumbles. Niggles is perhaps too small a word when discussing a film where muscle cars skydiving out of a plane before thumping onto a precarious mountain road for a bullet torn, 20-minute chase, is one of the less outrageous set pieces.

And so we have the woefully underused Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) as a fists of fury henchmen, while the decision to rob his brutality of its beauty with a barrage of cuts is indicative of Wan's set piece style as a whole. No doubt action maestro George Miller will bring greater fluency and coherence to the vehicular carnage of Mad Max: Fury Road, but Wan's up close and personal, down and dirty methods at least bring immediacy to the heavily computer generated sequences.

Chances are, by the end of Fast & Furious 7 you will feel like you were standing between Dom and Deckard as they traded blows with giant car wrenches. It's the job of each movie in this franchise to be more fast and furious than the one before, and here the relentless spectacle offers a car leaping between skyscrapers, Paul Walker running along the top of a bus as it teeters off a cliff and a night time chase and conflagration in LA that involves a chopper, a drone, multiple automobiles and Statham surviving a multi-storey car park landing on top of him. Make no mistake, we are in superhero territory now.

And then there is Walker, his passing bringing real emotion to the extravagant proceedings. With his filming completed via body doubles (including his brothers, Caleb and Cody) and digital trickery, his physical presence, as well as his spirit, haunts the movie throughout, and the fond farewell is beautifully handled. Suddenly all of Dom's platitudes about family make meaningful sense, and anyone strutting to the cinema for the hot rods, bikinis and heavy metal destruction will likely find themselves cursing the something in their eye as they exit into the lobby lights.

Fast & Furious is arguably Hollywood's most ludicrous franchise by a car length, and Fast & Furious 7 is certainly the most gonzo instalment yet. But despite the clunky dialogue and action to make even Wile E. Coyote cock a disbelieving eyebrow, this is a gleeful, exuberant romp of a movie.

The reported $250m budget is all up there on the screen... and reduced to a charred, mangled wreck. Supersized set pieces with an even bigger heart. Think Universal Pictures don't have a superhero franchise? Think again.

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