I have a few things to get off my chest at the top of this review. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to fit them into the context of the review, so I’ll address them head on:
1) Ronda Rousey plays a bodyguard for a Jordanian prince who has an army of harem warriors. Like Gina Carano before her she fights Michelle Rodriguez and it’s not as good a fight. Rousey’s delivery is wooden as all hell, but when she speaks Farsi she sounds more animated than I’ve ever heard her sound in English. I’d be willing to bet it was dubbed in post.
2) Iggy Azalea has a cameo in the Race Wars. I think if Rousey sounded like Iggy when she talked it would be an improvement over her own voice. That said, the unannounced / unnecessary / distracting cameo really made me hate myself for how much of her music I listen to.
3) Despite everything I just wrote in item two, I’m about to bash this movie and dammit, I still have the high ground.
I swear I like things. I even like trashy things. I’m the guy who never really fell out of love with Ben Affleck, not even during the Blue Period known as “Surviving Christmas,” “Gigli,” and “Jersey Girl.” I saw “Running Scared” a lot, I own “Chronicles of Riddick.” I also like dessert. Persisting with “Fast and Furious” films after “Fast Five” is like taking the most exquisite dessert you can imagine and following it up with chocolate lava cake—it’s warm and gooey, great in your mouth, but it makes you extremely nauseous.
Franchise newbie James Wan more or less delivers exactly the kind of vehicle (pun intended) you’re expecting at this point. Plotwise, it falls roughly in the same wheelhouse as “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” or “Live Free and Die Hard.” Well directed, but beholden to cartoon physics, hitting on sparse character beats, decimating a few city blocks, and laying waste to Abu Dhabi. There are MacGuffins and there is hacking. You get the idea. It’s not original, but people might respect the film for its sheer chutzpah. I’m not among those people.
Picking up where “Fast & Furious 6” left off, Jason Statham—sadly, doing almost nothing for the franchise and less for himself–is Deckard Shaw, a special ops badass trotting the globe on a revenge mission to destroy Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) extended family for the injuries they inflicted upon his baby brother. I’ll admit that his introduction in “Furious 7” is vintage Statham, but his character is still a poor man’s “Mechanic” or “Transporter.” The film is also so overstuffed with plot, it barely needs him. In fact, so plot heavy is “Furious Seven” that Statham is reduced to being one of three chief villains alongside Djimon Honsou and Tony Jaa, who are introduced to the plot when the Fast Gang is recruited to work for government agent, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), to rescue a hacker being held captive by mercenaries.
The hacker has invented a device called God’s Eye—a piece of surveillance technology so powerful it can only have come from Edward Snowden’s id—and the gang goes to retrieve it with the promise that they can then use it to track down Shaw.
One thing that the film doesn’t lose in the capable hands of director Wan is a sense of visual clarity. The camera is as fluid as it ever was, joining characters as they tumble end over end or fall to their back. Wan imbues the action scenes with proximity and intimacy. The initial freeway chase between Toretto and Shaw has the urgency and focused tension of a thriller, and a sort of doomed inevitability. Sadly, Wan’s ability to milk suspense is replaced by demands of unrelenting bombast.
If you ever feel at a distance from anything in the film, chock that up to how much honesty you want from your physics. Or perhaps you grow dizzy from the wildly oscillating character work that renders previously endearing characters insufferable. Yes, you can wring an ounce of poignancy from a genuinely understated Diesel or the looming ghost of Paul Walker,but there’s a wild miscalculation here.
Take for instance, the tired old amnesia subplot that the franchise has leaned on for two installments in a row. Rodriguez barely manages to pull off the soapy melodramatics while Diesel has that pain and longing etched into his face. Then there’s the entirety of Tyrese’s Roman Pierce who plays like the unholy love child of Hudson from “Aliens” and Jar Jar Binks. He is full of ill-timed and ill-considered one-liners and is just a blustery knucklehead. Giving him a scene partner other than Ludacris–who deflates and checks him constantly—is to invite your audience to cash in all their goodwill.
Also doing terrible character work is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Nathaniel Hobbs. First, he acts as if he has an audience for his piss poor one-liners, and you can practically see him turn to the camera to deliver them. He also lumbers around like a big dumb cartoon, a self-aware-in-all-the-wrong-ways Schwarzenegger. If by some freak accident these lines are the result of Johnson’s own improvisation skills then I’m sure the hell hope he doesn’t have to take on Roman Reigns’ talent on the mic.
I realize that part of the burden of a sixth sequel is expectation. I may be past a point of no return with this franchise. It will never come close to the perfection it achieved with “Fast Five.” It seems as good a time as any to pump the brakes on this franchise.