FURIOUS SEVEN (2015, James Wan)
Neal H. Moritz already had a career of big successes (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, CRUEL INTENTIONS, etc) before producing THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS in 2001. Like most Moritz films, It wasn’t a good movie, but it made a ton of money. Yet even Moritz couldn’t have known what the franchise he started would turn into. Like Tom Cruise with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, Moritz would hire a different director for each installment: Rob Cohen, then John Singleton, then Justin Lin, before settling on Lin for episodes 3-6. Over that time, Moritz turned a POINT BREAK ripoff about street racing into a globe-trotting spy series with all-out wars in the streets.
Luckily for us, Moritz wanted to hurry episode 7 into theaters after the huge successes of 5 & 6, and Lin didn’t want to rush through post on 6 in order to do a half-assed job in prep for 7. (Nobody tell him that every film he’s done in his career is half-assed anyway). So Moritz hired James Wan of all people. Who would have thought that the director of SAW, INSIDIOUS, and THE CONJURING could do a big budget explosive action movie? Well, anyone who saw DEATH SENTENCE, I guess. That weird, grim, violent Kevin Bacon vehicle may have died at the box office but it showed that Wan had an untapped knack for camera movement in action scenes, and for montage cutting in simple scenes. And with this bizarre teaming of Wan with the FURIOUS franchise steadies, the product is the first actual good film I’ve seen in the series. (Disclaimer: haven’t checked out 2-4, but I was not a fan of 1 or 5, and found 6 to be barely mediocre).
Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has penned all the films since episode 3, certainly hands Wan enough setpieces to make his mark, and Wan delivers. As in DEATH SENTENCE, Wan shows a penchant for above-ground parking garages and the ways in which they can host mayhem galore. But the greatest stunts involve driving cars through skyscrapers and — my favorite of the bunch — Paul Walker running along a bus teetering over a cliff so he can leap to safety on the spoiler of a passing sports car. The action here is ludicrous (pun intended) but enjoyable, in a relaxed way that towers over the forced and insipid stupidity of FAST FIVE, and Morgan’s dialogue is just as dumb but does not get in the way like it did in the last two entries.
There’s plenty of laugh-out-loud moments here, from The Rock snapping off a cast on his arm by flexing to Michelle Rodriguez’s take-it-too-seriously performance, but it’s best seen with an audience who will have as much fun. (The less said about the morbidly saccharin final five minutes the better). Thanks to solid stunt work, good effects, and a director who lets nothing get in the way of pacing or entertainment, FURIOUS SEVEN is, oddly, a seventh-time’s-a-charm for Moritz’s franchise, and if it’s the last, at least they went out with a good time.