These are indeed Strange Days we’re living in when my delightful friend Linda Holmes appreciates an action picture more than I do. We have each of us seen only the latter-day installments in the unaccountably resilient Fast & Furious franchise – those would be Nos. 6 and 7, the ones we watched together – which did not deter us from debriefing on the new Furious 7 in a small-batch session Pop Culture Happy Hour, which you can hear here.
Linda loves it. I like it, too, though I have some reservations. (My Travel Channel TV show is actually called Some Reservations. Call your cable operator.)
I wish the fights and the car stunts were shot and edited in a way that more clearly showcases the work of the combatants and the stunt-folk. The Mission: Impossible franchise and Casino Royale and the recent John Wick – which was actually directed by two veteran stunt coordinators – excel at this. If Furious 7 does feature a substantial quantity of practical, for-real, not-CGI stunt work, it’s shot and cut so schizophrenically that you can’t possibly tell. That’s a condition of most action pictures now, but I don’t have to like it. The original The Fast & the Furious, from 2001, was by most accounts a ripoff of Point Break – from future Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow – and I can’t say that either of the Furiosities I’ve seen feature action as beautifully staged and elegantly captured as what Bigelow did a generation ago.
I also wish Furious 7 screenwriter Chris Morgan could’ve thought up a more inventive MacGuffin than the the omnipresent surveillance device the God’s Eye, or else just dismissed the convention entirely. I love that the MacGuffin in Mission: Impossible III is just referred to as The Rabbit’s Foot, and we never find out what it actually is or does. That’s probably way too clever for a Fast & Furious flick.
For me, Furious 7 is at its best when it’s at its looniest. I love every frame The Rock is in, especially when he basically turns into Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 at the end. It’s great to see Kurt Russell again, ahead of his appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. (Snake Plissken doesn’t count backwards, folks.) But there was a lot of it that still felt like less-inspired riffs on stuff from better action movies to me. The movie’s signature stunt, wherein a car leaps from one steel-and-glass Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another, is cool. (It’s actually a more expensive variant on a gag from a forgotten 1986 Tommy Lee Jones – Linda Hamilton chase flick called Black Moon Rising, which you can watch on YouTube, in its entirety for free. Or better still, just fast forward to the car stunt at about the 1:30 mark.)
But neither it, nor anything in Fast 6 or Furious 7, comes within a 250,000 miles of being as thrilling as the bit in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol wherein real Tom Cruise really goes for a real run on the outside of the the world’s tallest building, and Brad Bird’s IMAX photography lets you revel, vertiginously, in the absence of CGI / greenscreen fakery. I like Furious 7 fine, but I’ll be surprised and disappointed if George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Chris McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (for which Cruise, as you might’ve heard, strapped himself to the outside of a perfectly good airplane to try to top Ghost Protocol’s Burj Khalifa stunt) don’t both leave it in their dust.