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      Furious 7 Review

      Furious 7 poster

      Furious 7

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      Under the hood, we're all Vin Diesel, trying to live a meaningful life a quarter-mile at a time. Yet the film series begun in the pre-9/11 era with "The Fast and the Furious" has sustained itself through weak sequels and exuberant ones, and has become not a drag race but the Indy 500 of the movies: a reliable if repetitive ode to fossil fuel. Keep it coming, pal. We'll tell you when we've had enough.

      "They say the open road helps you see where you've been ... and where you're going." So says Diesel's character, Dom, to Letty, his amnesiac honey played by Michelle Rodriguez, early in the new movie "Furious 7." For a thundering action franchise, these diversions always have had their sincere, soul-searching side, in between cars ramming each other head on or plummeting down mountains or, here, in one of my two favorite insane bits: Diesel and company drive five cars equipped with parachutes out of the back of a plane flying high over the Caucasus Mountains (played by the Rockies), which then hit the ground running at high speed in pursuit of a ruthless mercenary (Djimon Hounsou) in possession of the all-powerful surveillance device known as "God's eye."

      This epically ridiculous aerial sequence explains why, even with its dull stretches and hacky, maniacal editing rhythms, "Furious 7" does the trick. It's roughly as realistic as Georges Melies' "A Trip to the Moon," of course. But revisiting our old pals (one of whom is played by an actor who is no longer with us) and watching them survive one unsurvivable collision or plunge after another, continues against the odds to have a walloping charm all its own.

      My other favorite insane bit in "Furious 7" finds the gang in Abu Dhabi (played by Abu Dhabi). A surveillance device stolen by a dishy English hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel of "Game of Thrones") has fallen into the hands of a Jordanian prince who lives in a very high high-rise, where he keeps his car (!). The device is in the car, the car requires stealing, and at one point Diesel drives it through the windows and sails hundreds of feet midair. The bit goes on, just like the beat, but we'll draw a veil so you can discover the trajectory for yourself.

      Avenging his brother's death as depicted in the previous "Furious," Jason Statham's character is a bullet-headed Special Ops assassin out for blood. Kurt Russell joins the ensemble as a Mr. Big man who wears nice suits and genuinely enjoys his work, or seems to, because Russell brings such a welcome lightness of touch to his expository load. He assembles the street racers (Diesel, Walker, Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) for the heist of the God's eye thingie, which the gang will then use to find Statham's character before it's killin' time. After so many thrillers designed to stoke audience paranoia about omniscient surveillance practices, it's refreshing to see a film that's really into it.

      Walker died in a car accident in late 2013, midfilming. His scenes were completed using doubles, i.e., two of his brothers, and the trickier prospect of digital face replacement, with footage of his face replacing that of his doubles. In some medium shots and close-ups, Walker's expression remains eerily still and calmly neutral; the rationale, I think, is that it's less attention-drawing that way. The Walker we see on screen in "Furious 7," for lack of a better term, is the best that money could buy. And the undertow of the farewell, of friends parting, can be felt throughout the film. The coda acknowledges Walker's death with a montage of dialogue-free shots of the actor from earlier films in the series. It shouldn't work, but it does, and though director James Wan exhibits none of the stealthy, patient camera instinct exhibited in his best earlier work lower down on the budget scale ("Furious 7" reportedly cost $250 million), he does make time for the occasional rest stop

      and reflective moment. It's all about family, as we're told throughout, and being there with huge automatic weapons when needed, as illustrated by Dwayne Johnson's presence in "Furious 7."

      There will be more "Furious" films, starting with one scheduled for 2017, possibly marking the return of Justin Lin, the series' most talented director so far. "Furious 7" is not as zippy as "Fast Five," my favorite of the ones I've seen, but it has its satisfactions; its global audience is built-in, as well as strapped in and ready to ride. The PG-13 rating is for "prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem," among other things, and while that sounds suspiciously like the side effects of certain erectile dysfunction medications, it's an accurate description of this tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside hit in the making.

      MPAA rating: PG-13 (for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language).

      Running time: 2:20

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