Any moviegoer who didn’t know about the untimely death of Paul Walker would never guess it had occurred during production of Furious 7, a film that (whatever massive efforts were required to work around his absence) is as stupendously stupid and stupidly diverting as it could have hoped to be had everything gone as planned.
The knowledge of his death in a November 2013 car accident colors our experience of this unintentional swan song in many ways, of course, but viewers trying to spot the scenes in which stand-ins and CGI played Walker’s part for him will find it hard enough that they may do the right thing: Stop trying, and instead go along with a reworked screenplay that ushers him off the stage with as much grace as any other development in this muscle-car melodrama.
Technical miracles aside, the nature of the story makes watching Furious 7 something of a morbid game: Over and over, the action puts Walker’s Brian O’Conner in such jeopardy that we think, “Ah, this will be the scene where they give him a heroic death.” But saying “over and over” acknowledges that Brian survives, at least, the bomb blast that nearly kills his family in one fell swoop, that he manages to get out of that big bus hanging precariously over a cliff, and that he, and for that matter all his pals, drive their cars out of a plane in midair and parachute to the ground without so much as denting a fender. But producer Neal H. Moritz, who introduced the super-last-minute screening at South by Southwest, begged the audience to keep mum about Brian’s fate, so we won’t provide an exhaustive list of the many certain-death situations he faces and survives.
We needn’t say much about the plot, either. Bare bones: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), brother of the crew’s defeated enemy Owen Shaw, has vowed to kill them all in revenge; an all-seeing surveillance program called God’s Eye has been stolen by terrorists; the creator of said program (Nathalie Emmanuel‘s Ramsey) needs to be rescued; and a mysterious lawman with his own private army (Kurt Russell, who any oddsmaker would say is bound to be hiding something) promises to help Vin Diesel‘s Dom get Deckard if Dom’s crew will save Ramsey and recover the God’s Eye.
Tired yet? You will be after two hours of F7, which is as overinflated, if not as well formed, as the physique of Dwayne Johnson, who gave this ensemble a much-needed charisma boost when he signed on in episode five. Alas, Johnson is sidelined for much of this installment, laid up in a bodycast after saving a co-worker from an exploding building. Don’t worry, kids, the Rock will be back for the climax, reentering the action with the words “Daddy’s gotta go to work.”
That is Wildean wit compared to most of Chris Morgan‘s unrepentantly dumb pulp dialogue. But Fast & Furious fans don’t come out to critique lines like “Let’s do this,” they come to see a red sports car (one so expensive only seven were made) be stolen from a billionaire’s Abu Dhabi penthouse; to watch it bust through his windows, fly through the air, and crash into the skyscraper next door (landing safely, of course) only to learn that the brakes have gone out, and it will have to take to the skies again into a third building.
Anyone who can buy that bit of computer-generated idiocy should have no trouble believing Paul Walker is in this film from start to finish.
Production companies: Universal Pictures
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Lucas Black, Jason Statham
Director: James Wan
Screenwriter: Chris Morgan
Producers: Vin Diesel, Michael Fottrell, Neal H. Moritz
Executive producers: Samantha Vincent
Directors of photography: Marc Spicer, Stephen F. Windon
Production designer: Bill Brzeski
Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Editors: Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri, Christian Wagner
Music: Brian Tyler
Casting directors: Anne McCarthy, Kellie Roy
Rated PG-13, 137 minutes