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Tuesday
Apr072015

Furious 7 (2015)

Burial Expenses

Media commentator Lionel coined the phrase "automourn", a social-media phenomenon in which millions of people seek to out-do each other in public despair over the celebrity death du jour. No matter who the person is, your Twitter feed and Facebook page will inevitably be inundated with "RIPs", "God's speeds", and lengthy screeds about how Writer/Director/Actor X profoundly changed the course of everyone you know--like, forever, an' stuff. It happened last month with Leonard Nimoy, whose parting gift to the world was getting that Goddamned blue/gold/white dress off the news feeds. It also happened when Paul Walker died in a car accident two years ago, on a break from filming what would be his last movie. After months of re-writes and digital tinkering, Furious 7 opened this weekend to puzzling acclaim and less surprising blockbuster returns.

I'm as guilty as anyone of automourn. Decades from now, when someone writes the definitive e-book on this condition, I'll be first in the download queue. It's sad to lose someone we admire. But sadness plus nostalgia times mob consensus can be very dangerous--especially in the realm of art. Take Mr. Walker, for example. Point-two-five seconds before hitting that concrete post, he was an attractive, likable, and very bland actor who no one thought of between Fast and Furious movies. Death didn't change that, except the popular-consciousness part.*

Onto the film:

Saw co-creator James Wan slips comfortably into the director's chair. Just as long-running TV franchises like CSI and Law & Order have a set style and expectations, Wan does nothing to set himself apart from previous franchise helmer Justin Lin. It is, perhaps, cosmic coincidence that both the Saw and Furious series reached the sixth-sequel mark with equally uninspired set pieces and convoluted mythologies that bore no resemblance to the original formula. But Wan puts in his time and delivers a loud, rude crowd-pleaser that's as unique as the Domino's pizza you ate last week (and last year, and in 1996).

What's frustrating is that Furious 7 isn't just the other Furious movies--it's every action movie, burdened with a draining self-seriousness that's hard to stomach at two-hours-and-seventeen-minutes. Once again, retired car-thief/international-terrorist-stopper Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) finds himself embroiled in a shadowy world of global espionage. Once again, his misfit crew assembles to take down a crooked foreign criminal (Jason Statham this time out, who plays the older brother to Luke Evans' comatose villain from Fast & Furious 6). One of the gang's mini-adventures involves a high-rise heist in Abu Dhabi, which is nothing more than a flat, car-porn recreation of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol's dizzying Dubai sequence--down to the squeamish, goofy techies (Nathalie Emmanuel and Ludacris) and the security-guard girl fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Lousy (sorry, "Rousey").

Dwayne Johnson reprises his Gatling gun-toting, bad-ass-Fed role from G.I. Joe: Retaliation (also, technically, from Fast & Furious 6). In one of the film's two inspired scenes, he engages Statham in hand-to-hand combat through the most glass-filled office building since Die Hard. The other scene involves Statham taking on Diesel in a climactic rooftop brawl.

Notice how neither involves speeding cars?

The ticket-selling engine action is the same well-choreographed, sensory-overload fuel-gasm stuff we've seen before, but with a mean nihlistic streak that sucks all the fun out of the picture. Walker's shadow haunts Wan's film, and it's difficult to watch the multiple scenes in which Diesel (one of Walker's closest friends) deliberately drives his car full-speed off a cliff or straight into Statham's car (no chickens in this flick). It's doubly morbid when everyone involved in the carnage emerges completely scratch-and-limp free, like the recently deceased spirits in Ghost who hadn't yet realized their real bodies lay beneath the charred, twisted wreckage. I don't normally subscribe to the idea that entertainment is dangerous for the young, impressionable, and/or stupid--but I wouldn't be surprised to read about people "Diesel-ing" in the next few weeks.

I could write another four thousand words about:

 

  • Toretto and his team of idiot-savant gearheads, smart enough to know the color and coating of the wire that will disarm an Arab prince's entire security system, yet dumb enough to take on an assassin--without back-up--that not even MI6 could contain.
  • Kurt Russell's geek-baiting turn as a CIA super-spook. He's a human nostalgia-bomb in this movie, a talking chotchke who does nothing bad-ass except remind his fans that he once played iconic bad-asses.
  • Toretto's sadistic plan to lure the bad guys to Los Angeles, giving his team home-court advantage as they level the city, Man of Steel-style.
  • The series' chronologically challenged events. Remembering that the third film, Tokyo Drift, is actually the most recent in the timeline, it's weird to think that returning actor Lucas Black aged nearly a decade in twenty minutes' time.

 

But this isn't a movie (or a franchise) for thinking people. It's hyper-branded, pulse-quickening popcorn with no greater nutritional value than the Transformers or Expendables flicks. Sure, Furious 7 closes with a touching (I suppose) tribute to Paul Walker--but in the context of the film, it doesn't make a lick of sense.

Walker's character, Brian, retires from the hard-driving life to spend time with his family. Diesel and company let him go with heavy hearts. Given the weepy score, character montage, and artsy-fartsy closing image of two cars solemnly splitting off onto separate roads, one would think that Brian had died. He didn't, he just decided to do something else--which is exactly how every character ends up at the end of all of these movies. So, again, in the context of this story, what's with the finality?

Years from now, when the box set of Furious 1-15 comes out, I predict even ardent fans will struggle to remember which one had the bank-vault freeway chase, which one had the airplane getting shot down, which one took place on Mars, or which one had that guy who died in it. It would be nice if they remembered Furious 7 as the game-changer that valued WPM over RPM, but any chance of that died at least four movies ago.

RIP, Potential. And God's speed.

*Of course, I'm not suggesting Walker was a bad person or a bad father (all signs point to the contrary); just an unimpressive actor who popped up in mostly unimpressive films.

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