I’m not the biggest fan of the “Fast & Furious” movies. Barring the cheery original and the surprising heft of “Tokyo Drift,” I’ve been mostly impervious to its cheeky charms. Apparently there aren’t enough “ch” words to describe this woefully silly series. That said, “Furious 7” won me over more than any other recent entry, including the much ballyhooed “Fast Five,” the supposed benchmark. It can’t be denied that Paul Walker’s death casts a particular pall over these cinematic proceedings and therefore, as tragic as it is, a greater dose of gravitas is lent to what would otherwise be rote ruminations on the franchise’s typical hallmarks: friendship, family, brotherhood, all that stuff. Merge that with admittedly thrilling vehicular warfare, in the early going anyway, and “Furious 7” is a worthy send-off for Walker and hopefully the series as a whole.
The “Fast” films are nothing if not steeped in careful continuity. Convoluted, but careful nonetheless. The seventh installment is no different, picking up where ‘6’ left off with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw (what a name) carving a path of destruction in pursuit of Dominic Torretto and Brian O’Connor’s expert crew of miscreants. In the previous film they were enlisted by the very people they called enemy for so many years to hunt a rogue black-ops boogeyman. This time they’re being hunted by the boogeyman, a British jack-of-all-trades of such absurd abilities that he can somehow appear wherever he wants whenever he wants. He’s also capable of pillaging three floors worth of policemen, a feat accomplished within the first five minutes of showtime, announcing to the world we should take this mead of muscles and rap music with a molecule of salt. Listen, I get it. These ain’t “Pulp Fiction.” Or even “Drive.” They’re not intended be, as evidenced by the numerous line readings and dramatic noggin’ turns that suggest many of these actors are in on the joke. Regardless, “Furious 7” is no riotous parody, and as such it’s asking we take it at least a wee bit seriously, a request this reviewer cannot oblige, not until later. Give characters kinda-funny non-sequiturs to shout between flights of fancy? No problem. Literally fly in the face of the laws of physics with regular abandon? Sure, go ahead. Craft a villain whose sole purpose is topping every antagonist this franchise has created combined? That’s distracting, even amid countless other examples of crazy. What grounds the gear-head babble is another form of babble: brotherhood. In addition to car porn and Steve McQueen on steroids, the “Fast” franchise can also call itself one long, cheesy bromance. Every one of them, even those devoid of Diesel and Walker, are about the bond between men when they bruise over those mean machines. Because bruising always leads to bonding in the land of the Y chromosome, don’t ya know.
Of course, this testicular warfare is most potent when filtered through Dom and Brian’s testosterone-fueled nostalgia. Buoyed by Walker’s unfortunate death, their brotherly love becomes genuine without a moment’s hesitation. Once the wanton violence has winded down, the film’s focus immediately shifts to tastefully showering Paul Walker with tribute. His loss is felt, but not fetishized, and his crew’s truthfully tearful goodbyes suggest more than a clinical working relationship, they suggest something real behind all that ridiculous bluster. “Furious 7” may be silly, but it’s also the culmination of years of emotional baggage, a camaraderie that is, dare I say it, sweet.