Furious Seven

“Furious Seven,” the latest installment in the “Fast and the Furious” car-oriented soap opera franchise, starts with newly introduced British villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vowing to kill the entire Fast & Furious gang for almost killing his brother in the previous movie. Shaw then travels to L.A. to fight with government agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and get the list of whom, exactly, he has vowed to kill. For the rest of the movie, no matter which corner of the globe our heroes have trotted to, Deckard Shaw shows up like Wile E. Coyote to try to kill them.

And what is the mission that has them traveling the world? Terrorists have kidnapped a computer hacker who possesses a spying device that could be deadly in the wrong hands (or the right hands, really, but let’s not think about that), and so the U.S. government — represented by Kurt Russell as a shadowy figure called Mr. Nobody — needs the gang to execute a clandestine rescue operation. And why are they willing to do this for Mr. Nobody? Because if they do, he will let them use the spying device to find Deckard Shaw. Deckard Shaw. The one person they don’t need help finding, because if they sit still for a minute, he’ll find them.

Anyway, the rescue mission must be done at the highest level of secrecy, so of course it involves dropping cars out of an airplane.

This installment was directed by horror wunderkind James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious,” “The Conjuring”), his first foray outside the genre, and once again written by Chris Morgan. Wan has a sharp eye for good visuals, and he shoots the action sequences in the manner of someone who actually wants us to be able to see what’s going on. Morgan, though, has a tin ear for dialogue, of which there is too much, always too much.

That’s the thing with these movies, and with this chapter in particular. The action scenes are ridiculous and implausible, the laws of gravity defied with extreme prejudice, but they are undeniably entertaining. Everything else, though, is drudgery, a halfwit soap opera about characters in whom, after seven movies, I still have no emotional investment. Dom (Vin Diesel) is trying to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) get over her amnesia. Brian (Paul Walker, in his last film role) is adjusting to life as a family man with Mia (Jordana Brewster), who is now pregnant with their second child but is afraid to tell him because she’s worried he’ll resent being tied down. You know what? Don’t care. Get back to the vroom-vroom.

A prime example of this self-destructive tendency comes at the end of “Furious Seven.” There’s a terrific climax involving all of the major characters and the villains, everyone facing off in satisfying battles set in various places around Los Angeles (where it all began, six movies ago). It’s a powerhouse of a finale. But then comes a maudlin chunk of fan-service intended to give Paul Walker a proper send-off … which is awkward, because Walker’s character in the movie isn’t going anywhere. If you didn’t know that the actor died in real life, you’d have no idea why the film suddenly takes this unusually sentimental turn, with everyone acting like it’s the end of an era. It may be an emotional button-pusher for fans, but it’s not good moviemaking.

Of course, you could make the argument that pushing fans’ emotional buttons IS good moviemaking. Depends on your definition of “good,” “fans,” and “moviemaking.” At any rate, there will be more of these, and I would not be surprised if the next one is actually set in space, where gravity isn’t welcome anyway.

C+ (2 hrs., 17 min.; PG-13, some profanity, a lot of action violence, nothing too graphic.)