Monday, March 30, 2015

REVIEW: Fast and Furious 7

In yet another highly lucrative victory for multicultural Australia, RMIT’s own Chinese-Malay-Australian filmmaker James Wan takes the helm for the seventh outing of the Fast and Furious franchise. Wan graduated from the SAW series, via the ‘quiet-quiet-bang’ horror blockbusters Insidious and The Conjuring, to this highest of high profile releases. From the first frame it’s clear Wan is comfortable moving from his favoured ‘low budget / more creative control’ model, to working with quarter of a billion dollars and an already tightknit clique of actors and producers.

Brought even closer by the untimely death of lead actor Paul Walker, the team that makes Fast and Furious 7 both in front of and behind the camera are a shining example of diversity and successful collaboration. When Vin Diesel announced his daughter would be called Pauline in honour of Walker, it was no headline-grabbing stunt. These actors are close and the Fast and Furious series is no brain-dead ego-driven blockbuster, it just makes more money when it’s sold that way.

Lent unusual dramatic heft by Walker’s death, the storyline is a committee-driven series of ludicrous setups that permits even more ludicrous stunts (some performed by the rapper-turned actor Ludacris) to take place with a joyful ignorance of insurance premiums.

And it’s fun. Lots and lots of fun.

We’re talking driving a Lykan Hypersport out of the 45th floor of a skyscraper, INTO ANOTHER SKYSCRAPER sort of fun. It’s like the producers supplied near illegal levels of sugar and an endless supply of Matchbox cars to a group of seven-year olds and said ‘yes!’ to everything they came up with.

What storyline there is involves bad guy (Jason Statham) avenging the incapacitation of his brother (Luke Owens) in the previous film, and our heroes fighting for their gritty-yet-affluent lives. The plot also takes in a terrorist Jakande (a constantly agitated Djimon Hounsou) and a government official called Mr Nobody (a wry ‘just-here-for-the-paycheck’ Kurt Russell) vying to steal some powerful spyware. It’s all just as daft as it sounds, but somehow, amidst all the revving engines and breaking glass there is time to get to know characters’ quirks and engage with their dilemmas, which are usually solved by driving fast, firing guns or, in one memorable scene, flexing a muscle.

Amidst the flying cars, furrowed brows, convenient amnesia and hammy dialogue, possibly the most incredulous scene is one in which an American government official congratulates a rogue hacker on a job well done. Hey, it’s Hollywood!

While militarised drones, US covert ops and mass surveillance figure largely in the film’s mechanics, screenwriter Chris Morgan never aims higher than providing a skeleton for spectacular entertainment, and why should he? Other less-seen and more acclaimed films can ask the questions. Diesel and co have worked hard to make this franchise not only hilarious fun, but also a showcase for a new definition of friends-as-family. Virtually all non-explanatory dialogue is about the value of domestic relations, most notably an extended postscript focusing on Walker and Diesel’s friendship. Even those who haven’t seen previous instalments won’t have trouble in seeing how vital Walker is to the series and how important he is to the others. And if you haven’t it’s striking how involved you can become with the predicaments of characters barely sketched. Even (Game of Thrones’) Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, who is rarely in a non-life-threatening scene and never formally introduced to anyone, stops to appreciate the affecting moment of Paul Walker fooling around with his son and hugging his wife on a beach as the sun sets.

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