Review: 'Furious 7' is a Grade A behemoth amusement ride

Furious 7 pits Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel, left) and his “family” of street racers against killing machine Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who's seeking vengeance for his brother, who was left brain dead by Dom's crew in Part 6. Universal Pictures
Furious 7 pits Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel, left) and his “family” of street racers against killing machine Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who's seeking vengeance for his brother, who was left brain dead by Dom's crew in Part 6.Universal Pictures
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Vin Diesel has a point in a recent, ridiculed prediction about his new movie. Not about Furious 7 winning the best picture Oscar — fat chance — but that the Academy would become relevant by making it so.

Furious 7 is exactly what most popular movies are today: behemoth amusement rides adding more preposterous loop-de-loops with each sequel because nothing succeeds like excess. No brand — not even James Bond — does that better than the Fast & Furious franchise.

This time there's a third F added to the formula: falling, which muscle sportsters, luxury rockets, even an armored RV do over cliffs, out of airplanes and through skyscrapers, hitting the ground rolling unless they hit it too hard. Then Furious 7 becomes scrap metal porn, making viewers moan at all the demolished horsepower.

Viewers unfamiliar with the made-up-as-profits-increased saga of Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his gang — excuse me, family — of car thieves turned vigilante traffic hazards will find it easy to slip into. Just understand that family is Dom's obsession, and a fine idea for a drinking game, sipping when he gruff-mumbles the word.

Over six films this crew has come to feel like family, the ones you sneak out to visit because your parents would object.

Furious 7 continues the series being contagiously dumb, with as much lampshade personality as any movie. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) still has amnesia and can't remember Dom loves her, but he'd smash a gravestone with a sledge hammer to prove it.

There is also a serious underpinning to F7, with the 2013 death of Paul Walker in a car crash, a sad coincidence after his role as Brian O'Conner. Director James Wan fashioned a finale that works beautifully for the character and Walker's memory. His first appearance in the movie is a clever relief; the last shot is poetry cobbled from tragedy.

In between is two hours of wow, beginning with the aftermath of a bloodbath, at a hospital where killing machine Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) pledged vengeance for his brother, left brain dead by Dom's crew in Part 6.

Bold move by Wan, not showing an action sequence that would appear to make a terrific finale.

Then again, so could most of F7's action sequences, devised at the highest level of insane ideas, from an automotive air drop into enemy territory, to a black ops chopper-and-drone shattering of any glass building in Los Angeles. Sandwiched between are enough bare-knuckle beatdowns (Ronda Rousey! Tony Jaa!) and drive-by ballistics to hold over action fans until summertime.

Shaw's pursuit of Dom and vice versa is the meat of Furious 7, with possession of a surveillance program called God's Eye figuring into the mix. Mostly it's an excuse to get Kurt Russell back in an over-the-top action movie where he belongs, and to introduce another Hollywood-style hacker who's hot (Nathalie Emmanuel). There's always time for soap-sudded booty bumps and grinds at a street race or two.

Wan is a stickler for gearhead fantasy detail, from wildly choreographed stunts to a breeze blowing up a starter-chick's skirt for perfect slo-mogling.

Furious 7 is so entertaining that you don't notice Dwayne Johnson is missing from action much of the time, only that he kills it when he shows up.

Wan's movie is so aware and respectful of its fandom, so intent on wowing, that it shames other franchises gone jaded by Part 3.

Not exactly Birdman, but a few skid marks on the red carpet would make Oscar millions of friends.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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