BY CHRISTOPHER HEIM
A joyfully silly over-the-top spectacle and an emotional farewell to Paul Walker
In the previous addition to the “Junk Drawer,” members of the Entertainment section gave their picks for favorite guilty pleasure movies, which was inspired by the upcoming release of “Furious 7,” the seventh entry (duh) in the now 15-year-old action franchise.
Now I’m not going to lie; I love this franchise. However, critics initially wrote off the original 2001 “The Fast and the Furious” as a “Point-Blank”-rip-off with street racing; Vin Diesel and Paul Walker became household names regardless.
So how have these movies become not only critically acclaimed but also huge box-office juggernauts? What puts these movies above other such “dumb-fun” films such as “The Expendables” or the critically reviled “Transformers” franchise?
One factor is director Justin Lin, who transformed the franchise from street-racing neo-noir to action/heist thriller with 2011’s “Fast Five.” Where the “Expendables” movies come off as ashamed of their B-grade action movie roots, the FAF films under Lin fully embrace the silliness with cheerfully implausible car stunts, hard-hitting fist fights and energetic cinematography.
Another critical factor is the wonderful chemistry between the franchise’s surprisingly wide and diverse cast consisting of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, just to name a few. The running theme of these movies is family, and one gets a real sense of community in the cheesy but nonetheless humorous banter. This is unlike say the “Transformers” movies where the acting is wooden and characters so devoid of personality (or annoying) that it renders the affair joylessly lifeless.
So how does this particular entry hold up?
Taking place right after Toretto (Diesel) and his crew defeated Owen Shaw and his gang in “FAF 6,” Shaw’s older brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), is now seeking revenge. Deckard is even more deadly than Owen and after killing Han during the events of “FAF: Tokyo Drift” (“FAF 2,” and 4 through 6 take place before “Tokyo Drift”), the crew realizes that they are in danger once again. In a globe-trotting adventure that spans Tokyo, Los Angeles and even Saudi Arabia, the crew sets out to find the man who killed their own before he finds them.
James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) takes over the director’s chair and delivers the goods in what is by far the biggest, most over-the-top entry to date. There are skydiving cars, cars leaping across towers and lots of sweet wreckage. But it’s all in good fun, and once again the cast looks like they are having a blast.
Dwayne Johnson returns as the buff DSS agent Luke Hobbs, and Kurt Russell has a great scene-stealing role as covert ops leader Frank Petty. Meanwhile, Statham makes for probably the series’ most intimidating villain and has a great one-on-one fistfight match with Diesel at the end.
This film also marks the final appearance of franchise star Paul Walker, who tragically died halfway through production back in 2013 (his two brothers were used as stand-ins to complete his remaining scenes). Without giving away the fate of Brian O’Connor, Walker’s character, the ending gives the ex-undercover cop/family man a beautifully poignant send-off that will leave any long-time fan of the franchise with a tear in their eye.
While “F7” may not mark the end of the franchise, the ending certainly signifies the end of an era.
RIP Paul Walker (1973-2013)