Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou
Rated PG-13 for Prolonged Frenetic Sequences of Violence, Action and Mayhem, Suggestive Content and Brief Strong Language
I almost didn't see this movie. For one thing, I've only seen the first film in the franchise. Second, even though I love Paul Walker, the fact that this is his last film is something I'd rather not think about. Still, I'm glad I did. It's a lot of fun, and the film's farewell to Walker is note-perfect.
Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is living the high life with his "family:" his best friend Brian O'Connor (Walker), who is married and has a son with his sister Mia (Brewster), his girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez), and friends Roman (Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Hobbs (Johnson). But the brother of an old enemy, a nasty piece of work named Deckard Shaw (Statham), wants revenge for nearly killing his brother (Luke Evans in what amounts to a cameo). He's coming after them one by one, intending on getting revenge in blood. A mysterious man without a name but packing a small army (Russell) knows how to get him, but to do that, they have to rescue a hacker with a very powerful spy program (Emmanuel).
The plot takes things to new heights of preposterous. It's so far over-the-top that there's no term for it. Parachuting out of an airplane in a car, crashing through skyscrapers a half mile in the air, and a crash between a car and a flying helicopter. The story, which is paper thin, seems to be built around two things: the stunts and making the actors look fantastic (admittedly, not hard to pull off). The script is godawful, containing more howlers than the average comedy, but in a way that adds to the film's charm. Even so, you didn't expect David Mamet in a "Fast and the Furious" movie, now did you?
It seems that everyone who has ever been in a movie in this franchise has at least a cameo. Some are only around for one scene, if that, while others have larger roles. The script doesn't allow them to do much other than drive and look good, but few bring much to the table. Vin Diesel, who played his thinly written character with weight and gravitas in the first entry, is merely a one-dimensional badass here. There's no depth to his portrayal, which makes him a little flat. More interesting is Paul Walker, although his death probably limited his screentime (CGI and his brothers playing body doubles helped finish his scenes...the work is entirely convincing, by the way), but he's given little to do. Still, it makes you wonder what could have been, especially since he was improving with every new film that he made. Kurt Russell is always welcome on screen, although he's beginning to look his age. Dwayne Johnson hams it up, displaying little of his unrecognized talent (see "Faster" for an example of what he can do if given the chance). Jason Statham acts as menacing as he can, but other than wearing a scowl and shooting a gun, he doesn't have a lot to do. Everyone else does their jobs, although the less said about Jordana Brewster, the better. She was cute and talented in the original, but time has not been good to her: she looks like she old as hell and has lost her talent. She's awful.
Horror-meister James Wan may seem like an odd choice to helm such an over-the-top action fest, but the guy knows his stuff. The action scenes are well-staged and terrifically exciting, save for the first one, although that's mainly due to the writing (not even Spielberg could choreograph a battle between twenty cars without confusion). He knows that the script is dumb, so he uses that to his advantage. This movie contains about 10 times as much testosterone as it does brain cells, and in some ways, it's all the better for it.
So the movie gets a 3/4 from me for its audaciousness and the fact that the action scenes are exciting. But I'm upping it to a 3.5 for one reason: Walker's farewell. It's splendidly choreographed, and may even bring a tear to the eye. If nothing else, the film is worth seeing just for that, especially if you're like me, and were a fan of the actor.