At some point in Fast & Furious 7 somebody evokes, half-jokingly, "a bad TV series from the 1970s" - and probably without even realizing it, that's precisely what the Fast & Furious series turns out to have become in this long-awaited, utterly disappointing instalment.

     The TV reference is particularly appropriate: the film's insistence in implausible but spectacular action setpieces, while tying up loose ends from previous episodes, practically demands the suspension of disbelief that stuff like Wonder Woman or The A Team churned out week after week. And the scripting (by Chris Morgan, in charge of writing since film # 3) is pretty much at the same level of spoon-fed homilies about the importance of family against a backdrop of simplistic good-vs-evil heroics. 

     In itself nothing to worry too much about; we shouldn't forget the franchise pretty much started back in 2000 like a throwback to the old-fashioned drive-in exploitation movies of the 1960s and 1970s, where what really mattered were cool cars, cool chicks, cool heroes. The problem is, by now Fast & Furious have probably become the most expensive exploitation movies ever, and that comes with its own set of issues; hence, 7 is basically a series of outlandish, gravity-defying car stunts hung out to dry from a narrative clothesline that is so almost thin as to be almost non-existent, going for broke with all the elements of cheap melodrama hoping its excess will eventually propel it into meta-narrative heaven. 

     No such luck, alas: the series' crew of daredevil thrill-chasing drivers, led by the ever-muscular Vin Diesel, must now confront the almost invincible villainy of Jason Statham, seeking revenge for their elimination of his kid brother in episode 6, but are also sidetracked by an operation commissioned by a US black-ops agency in exchange for its help in tracking down Statham. There's a 007-ish undercurrent here, but one that never manages to invoke the Bond series' tongue-in-cheek humour that winked at the viewer and asked him not to take any of this seriously. 

     Furious 7 takes the exact opposite road, awash as it is in the certainly sincere but overly po-faced sentimentalism of "the family that drives together stays together", made worse by the realisation that the series' other anchoring regular, Paul Walker, died tragically halfway through the shoot. It's worth asking how much of this mawkishness was already in the original script and how much of it was added after Mr. Walker's death - all reports say the film was extensively overhauled - but it's also worth pointing out that family has been a recurring theme for director James Wan. 

     The Australian creator of Saw, one of the most interesting contemporary horror-movie directors, moves up in the Hollywood pecking order by helming here his first big-budget blockbuster, but it's clear that the old-school, less-is-more approach that made his films so interesting has all but been discarded here. The entire Furious franchise has been built on excess, so there's a sense that for all the streamlined efficiency Mr. Wan brings to the film, he is clearly here as a mere assembly-line foreman tasked with executing a pre-ordained, pre-approved blueprint according to specifications. 

     In many ways, Fast & Furious 7 fulfills its desire to be the greatest film spectacle a Hollywood big budget can buy; but why does a great film spectacle have to be so bereft of originality or imagination other than in finding out ways of making bigger and better car stunts?

USA, China, Japan, 2015
137 minutes
Cast Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordanna Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham
Director James Wan; screenwriter Chris Morgan; cinematographers Stephen M. Windon and Marc Spicer (colour, widescreen); composer Brian Tyler; designer Bill Brzeski; costumes Sanja Milkovic Ways; editors Christian Wagner, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk Morri and Leigh Folsom Boyd; effects supervisors Michael J. Wassel and Kelvin McIlwain; producers Neal H. Moritz, Mr. Diesel and Michael Fottrell; production companies Universal Pictures, Original Film and One Race Films in association with MRC, China Film Company, Dentsu and Nippon Television Network
Screened March 31st 2015, NOS Colombo IMAX, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


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