I have never once, not ever, been genuinely disappointed in a “The Fast and the Furious” movie.
It is, by far, the most satisfying franchise in American action cinema. Like the cars they fetishize, “Furious” movies are sleek, brightly colored machines designed for maximum entertainment value. More than any series of movies involving spies or superheroes, this collection of films has solved the onto-ontological difference: It is exactly what it seems to be.
That being said, something is very slightly off in “Furious 7,” the (duh) seventh movie in the “Furious” series.
Maybe it’s the fact that Justin Lin, the director responsible for chapters three through six, has stepped down in favor of James Wan. Perhaps it is because Paul Walker, who plays FBI agent-turned-criminal-turned-suburban-dad Brian O’Conner, died while filming was only halfway done, leaving much of his part to be played by doubles and CGI tricks. (The cast clearly misses him; Walker and O’Conner get a sweet send-off that nearly crashes through the fourth wall.)
Or maybe it’s just that, with the exception of a plot-setting half-second flashback sequence, it takes an oddly long time, a good 20 or 30 minutes, before serious car action starts.
Some unspecified period of time has passed after the events of “Fast & Furious 6,” in which Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), O’Conner and their pals defeated the criminal Owen Shaw. Turns out Shaw had an older brother, Deckard (Jason Statham), who vows revenge (after slaughtering dozens of guards off camera to tell his unconscious brother just that).
Said revenge comes in the form of killing street racer Han Lue (Sung Kang), then going after the rest of the Toretto crew. (One of the most enjoyable things about the “Fast & Furious” series is the bonkers continuity. “Furious 7” is the first movie in the series that takes place after “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” the all-but-Dieselless -and-Walkerless 2006 film starring Lucas Black, who helpfully makes a cameo appearance to remind everyone what the order is.)
After Shaw sidelines U.S. Diplomatic Security Service special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) and nearly kills Toretto, Walker and the latter’s wife (Jordana Brewster, in this one almost as little as she was “Furious 6”), it’s time to get the gang back together — including goofy Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and computer guy Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) — to track down Shaw.
And, oh yeah, Toretto’s girl Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) still has amnesia. (What is this soap opera nonsense? This movie isn’t called “As the Wheel Turns.”)
A McGuffin comes in the form of Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, of “Game of Thrones” fame), a hacker who has been kidnapped by a mercenary or terrorist or something named Jakande (Djimon “does anyone remember the last time I played a good guy?” Hounsou). A mysterious government agent (what’s up, Kurt Russell?) needs Ramsey back, along with the surveillance program called God’s Eye she invented. If the Furious crew gets Ramsey back, they can use the God’s Eye to find Shaw.
Got all that? Really, it’s not that important. Look for MMA star Ronda Rousey as a bodyguard and Thai superstar Tony Jaa as a terrorist, but what is important is the cars.
Whether they are speeding along the California flats in something called Race Wars or falling out of airplanes with parachutes in a daring mountain rescue or smashing into each other head-on, the cars are the thing, in all their crashing, fast-and-furious glory.
In spite of everyone’s best efforts at plot and character, the cars are the superheroes. And you will believe a car can fly.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson
Rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language
Running time: 2 hour, 17 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Ritz, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo South, Alamo Village, Barton Creek Square, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Cinemark Stone Hill Center, City Lights, Domain, EVO, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline Mall, Moviehouse & Eatery, Starplex, Tinseltown Austin, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Westgate