Furious 7

The car-racing franchise goes out with a bang — and a moving tribute to Paul Walker

Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker and Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges in 'Furious 7.' Credit: Scott Garfield

It probably seems lame to call Furious 7 a family film. But what the fuck, it is — the family being the audiences that have stuck with this car-porn franchise, thick and thin, since the first chapter, in 2001. And the family of actors and crew who have gathered here to pay tribute to one of their own.

That would be Paul Walker, who plays Brian O'Connor, the undercover cop who infiltrated an outlaw gang of East L.A. street racers, run by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), and stayed to form a bond. Walker, 40, died in a high-speed car crash on November 30th, 2013, in the passenger seat of a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT that hit trees and a concrete lamppost.

With only half of Walker's scenes finished at the time of his tragic death, it took an act of will to decide the fate of Furious 7. After taking time to grieve, Walker's brothers, Caleb and Cody, stepped up to fill in for scenes that digital grafting couldn't cover. Tough job. It had to look seamless. And it pretty much does.

Furious 7 is the best F&F by far, two hours of pure pow fueled by dedication and passionate heart. This one sticks with you. The usual flaws — plot bumps, muscle acting, tweet-length dialogue — fade in the face of the camaraderie on and off screen. Finishing the film in Walker's honor clearly brought out the best in everyone. It's bittersweet seeing Walker in action again. But it's also a kick to watch him take the wheel or hang off a bus in Azerbaijan that happens to be hanging off a cliff. He feels at home.

Home, of course, is where Furious 7 starts. Back in L.A., Brian finally looks uncomfortable with a moving vehicle. That's because it's a suburban minivan he uses to pick up his girl, Mia (the ever-
stellar Jordana Brewster), and their infant son. Mia tells her brother Dom she loves having her family reconnected. But she admits that Brian "misses the bullets."

That's the cue to bust loose for horror director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious), expertly taking over the driver's seat from four-time F&F honcho Justin Lin. Serenity vanishes when Dom's house is blown up by Deckard, played with menacing glee by Jason Statham. In no time, Brian, Dom, his amnesiac love Letty (Michele Rodriguez is killer), and their tech-wiz comic cohorts, Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson), are on the road to global vengeance. Hell, that bastard Deckard has put FBI agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in the hospital.

Newbies to the cast include a welcome Kurt Russell as covert government operative Mr. Nobody, who wants the F&F crew to enter the terrorist lair of Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) and snatch Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a computer hacker who's invented a software program called God's Eye that can track anyone anywhere via the simplest digital devices. In exchange, they can use God's Eye to find Deckard.

Got that? Doesn't matter. Chris Morgan's chronology-jumping, logic-defying plot doesn't matter a damn next to the breathtaking stunts and action. There's a hell of a head-butting fight between Diesel and Statham and a knockout scene of buckled-in drivers being parachuted onto a mountainside. And you won't believe your eyes as Dom drives a priceless Hypersport out of the 80th-floor window of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper and into another. Brian's words echo in his ears: "Cars can't fly, Dom, cars can't fly."

Well, they do here. The filmmakers have figured out an ingenious and graceful way to give Brian a happy ending of sorts. If you've given your heart to Walker and the F&F crew, you can't help but well up. If you believe there's no crying in car racing, take a star off my rating. But my guess is that if God's Eye is tracking Walker somewhere, he'll be smiling.