Sunday, June 28, 2015

Furious 7

Around the fifth movie of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, I started hearing what amounted to reluctant praise from the critical set. I can't remember who, but one critic described it as a series of (if I recall correctly): punching people, car chases, butts, repeat. But at the end of this said, again rather sheepishly, that he found that he enjoyed it.

Well, I can get behind that. If you're in the mood for fight/chase/butts, then a movie that delivers on that promise is just the ticket and no shame to be had there. Unless, of course, you find it to be beneath you to be in the mood for F/C/B. At which point, you should probably just get over yourself.

I didn't see any of those movies because I'm just not that into cars. My reluctance carried over into 5 and 6, but the buzz on Furious 7 is just crazy good. 85% from filmgoers on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't mean too much because you gotta figure the audience is self-selecting, i.e., the people who go see these movies are the sorts of people who generally like these movies.

But 80%+ from critics? That puts it comfortably ahead of Avengers 2 and Kingsman, and within striking distance of arty fare like When Marnie Was There and Far From The Madding Crowd.

We'd been on a tremendous streak, seeing in order: The Wrecking Crew, Fight Club, The Farewell Party, Kingsman and Something Better To Come. Five movies we really liked or loved right in a row, and we were hoping to extend the streak into six.

And. Well. OK. It's overhyped. In fact, I sort of think that the high score has something to do with the death of Paul Walker. Oh, not a lot. It's not crazy ahead of Fast 5, which is in the mid-70s. But enough to make it seem like it's going to cross genre boundaries and win a lot of non-fans over.

It's not. Not that it's not good. It reminds me of '80s action movies, where plot holes are papered over by action scenes and you just have to go with it. The action is good and there's a story where our heroes are being chased down by Jason Statham for their actions in F&F6. James Wan (of Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) has a sure hand at the sort of big-budget CGI set pieces that are all the rage these days, which is perhaps a bit surprising, but bodes well for his upcoming Aquaman picture. Or at least as well as any movie about Aquaman can.

He also manages to punctuate the action scenes with some pretty solid, if fundamentally a little goofy, emotional points. (How goofy? Amnesia goofy!)

Anyway, if you don't like this sort of thing, the fact that this is a pretty good example of the genre isn't going to change your mind.

The plot...no, really, the plot....is that in order to find Evil Statham, they need to use a super-duper computer program that hacks into all cameras (a la The Dark Knight), and they can't do that without rescuing super-cute computer hacker Nathalie Emmanuel ("Game of Thrones"). This basically follows the standard Bond formula, with each clue leading them to new global locations where they wreck up the place with their cars.

You know, you do have to hand them that: Sure we've seen James Bond globetrot to fight espionage, but have we ever seen him do it with six of his closest buddies in a variety of tricked out sports cars? Usually he gets just one or two, and then some super skis or a jet pack or maybe a helicopter.

Thing is, everywhere they go on their super-secret missions, Statham shows up (in whatever souped-up car he's managed to bring with him!) to give them a hard time. Which, I don't know, made me wonder if maybe they shouldn't have just used whatever intelligence tools Statham was using.

I actually kind of figured this was going to lead to an "your old pal is a mole" plot but while that would've made sense, it would've been super-cheesey. Kurt Russell plays the spook who extorts them into capturing Emmanuel and there's a scene that's right out of Escape From New York where Snake Pliskin (Russell) pretends to make a hand-off and then betrays The President of the United States.

I was glad they didn't do that; the movie wasn't making so much sense that that would've helped anyway. (In order to have the mole plot make sense, somebody would have had to notice that Statham was able to pop up wherever they went.)

There's another WTF-type moment where The Rock, completely out of the loop for most of the movie, drives a car into a flying thing. There's no justification for how he knew where to be, and even less to explain how he managed to time this, but by that time my cerebellum just assumed I'd been smoking a joint and was in a deep, apathetic groove.

Ronda Rousey is in this, for those of you who are into Ronda Rousey. She fights Michelle Rodriguez, which is cute. Rousey looks odd in a too tight evening gown with too tight underwear on underneath, all of which looks like it was made with sparkly spandex or something. She also looks like she would crush Rodriguez in a real fight. (And Rodriguez is a convincing Hollywood tough chick. Her stunt doubles are considerably more plausible than she is here, though.) At 5'7" and 135 pounds, that gives you a sense of how tiny Hollywood people are.

Speaking of odd-looking, Vin Diesel looks weird when he's just standing there. You ever notice that? The Rock might too but he's clever or lucky enough to just be in action scenes, or lying down. But Diesel looks, literally muscle-bound, as in bound by muscles. And I bring this up because the end of the movie is rather emotional, and he has to stand there and let it wash over him while his traps try to rise up and consume his head.

Then there's the whole Paul Walker issue. He and Diesel were the stars of the first movie all the way back in 2001. But then Diesel's career took off and he opted to not be in #2. (Paul Walker commented on that in an interesting way, I thought.) And then neither of them were in three (the studio thought Walker too old, if rumors are true), until Diesel convinced Universal to give up the rights to Riddick in exchange for a cameo.

That one kind of killed the franchise, although star Lucas Black appears here, which is nice for him and perhaps also for longtime F&F fans. By 2009, though, both Walker and Diesel had probably gotten a sense that there careers weren't going to outstrip a successful franchise and the movies came back, less about street racing then action/spy stuff.

But since Walker died halfway through this, the script had to be rewritten and he is a very peripheral character here. And because they recycle both dialogue and shots from the other movies—that is, actually digitally insert him into this—there are some very weird moments, the weirdest being at the end.

Said ending, by the way, really doesn't work. But to explain, I need to spoil. So if you don't want spoilers, stop reading.

There's a happy ending to this. I thought maybe they'd kill Walker's character, but instead they have him reunited with Jordana Brewster and his kid, and all the other characters are watching them play on the beach.

But it's seriously melancholy. They don't act at all like he survived. They act like he's dead and they're watching a ghost. It makes no literal sense whatsoever. It's basically a meta-moment.

I'm not really criticizing. What else are you going to do? Killing him would've been kind of cheap, like using a real tragedy to make a fake tragedy. And if they'd all been happy-go-lucky, well that would've felt weird, too.

So it's a no-win. Wan handles it as well as anyone could, I guess. And Brewster, who mostly deals with body doubles. It's not exactly Aftermath, you know? They managed to salvage the film in a respectful way, but it's not unharmed.

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