Writers: Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson (characters)
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey
Running Time: 137 mins
The lowdown: Paul Walker’s death inevitably hangs over Fast & Furious 7, but the film stands as moving tribute to one of recent Hollywood’s most likeable leading men. Insidious director James Wan moves from chills to thrills, successfully steering the seventh instalment of the frenetic franchise. Carnage ensues as ‘Legitimate English badass’ Jason Statham pits his pecs against fellow glabrous growlers Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Disengage your brain, let logic take the backseat and join the gear-crunching crew for more vehicular mayhem.
The verdict: When The Fast and The Furious screeched onto our screens in 2001, its Point Break borrowed undercover cop plot and spotlight on illegal street racing didn’t feel like franchise fodder. 14 years later and $2.3 billion in receipts, it’s now the most successful series in Universal’s history.
Of course its longevity may be due to more than fast cars and high-octane thrills. Although the team have graduated to Mission Impossible-style heists and soapy sub-stories, it’s the emphasis on family and loyalty that drives their actions.
The effect Paul Walker’s tragic death mid-shoot had on cast, crew and the franchises’ devoted fan base was catastrophic, a testament to the actor’s popularity and his contribution to the series.
Solutions involved utilizing stuntmen, CGI and body doubles, including Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody. The result is seamless and the extra footage allows his character a proper farewell.
The resulting script changes push Diesel’s group leader Dominic Toretto to the fore. He does a decent enough job of carrying the emotional heft, despite his most touching performance this century being as a talking tree.
Alas, his relationship with amnesiac love Letty (Rodriguez) veers unintentionally into melodrama and skewed sense. He worries for her during a straightforward drag race but will happily let her freefall from a plane, encased in her automobile (a cheeky one-up on Point Break’s pivotal plunge).
Fortunately ‘The Rock’ also returns as hulk-cop Hobbs. Whether executing his signature move on Statham, busting out of an arm cast when duty calls or manning an M134 Minigun, he’s a testosterone-fuelled tonic.
At 2 hours 17 minutes, this is the longest film in the Fast and Furious canon. Set after Toyko Drift, the fume-thin plot sees ex-Special Ops ‘ardcase Deckard Shaw (Statham) vowing vengeance for the hospitalisation of his brother Owen (Fast 6’s Luke Evans).
Whether engaging in head-on collisions or street-fighting with spanners, The Stath’s in his element and a welcome addition to the anarchy.
He certainly fares better than Oscar nominated actor Dijmon Hounson (as ‘Special Guest Mercenary’ Jankande) who’s allowed to do little more than fire off a few rounds and bark ineffectually at dodgy technology.
Most of the movie’s bulk is divided into two separate ‘men on a mission’ segments, as umbrageous agent Mr Nobody (a slick, suited-up Kurt Russell) sends the gang Macguffin hunting for the ‘God’s Eye’, a tracking device ‘on steroids’ and its curvy creator, Ramsey (Game of Thrones Nathalie Emmanuel).
After a thrilling ambush in Azerbaijan, an unnecessary diversion to Abu-Dhabi is lumbered with an obligatory girl fight and the juvenile comedy stylings of Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris but redeems itself with a sensational skyscraper-hopping supercar.
Wan’s back-tracking style, though primarily used for demonic dolls, is well suited to capture these spectacular stunts but kick-ass cameos from Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Ronda Rousey (Expendables 3) are sadly wasted. Jaa’s parkor punch-ups with Walker should wow but are lost amidst a blur of frenetic editing and shaky cam.
A poignant closing montage has the feel of finality but with a likely $150m US opening weekend and another three films already green-lit, the road show must go on. On the strength of this instalment, at least they’re heading in the right direction.