Opening this weekend:
Seven—My mother always hated car chase movies. She used to take me to
the live-action Disney comedies of the early ‘70s irritably, under protest,
because they routinely ended with a wacky car chase. A few years later, she was
appalled when one of my nephews became an avid fan of The Dukes of Hazzard, and insisted on getting in the car through
the open window.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed many a movie car chase, but at some deep
psychological level I’ve always felt a little guilt over this, knowing that my
Mom wouldn’t approve. That feeling was magnified while I watched this seventh
entry in the Fast and the Furious series.
The accident that killed star Paul Walker in 2013 wasn’t part of the film’s
production (nor was Walker driving). But it was speed-related, and it’s hard to
overcome the sense that movies like this franchise—the implicit message of
which is that it’s impossible to be seriously injured in a car crash—may
contribute to mishaps like this.
In a showpiece scene of Furious 7 [spoiler alert!], Vin Diesel and Walker
drive a high-performance car out of the upper-floor window of a high-rise building.
They sail through the air into the windows of the neighboring high-rise, then across
that building and out the far side, through the air again into a third
high-rise. When Diesel begins barreling toward the windows, Walker yells “Cars
can’t fly! Cars can’t fly!” but there’s no sign that director James Wan agrees.
This and other scenes inevitably have a macabre extra resonance.
The story has Diesel’s street racing gang turned government agents stalked
by vengeful Brit special forces rogue Jason Statham. Djimon Hounsou is another
heavy, Dwayne Johnson is the lead G-man, Michelle Rodriguez is back with her
beguiling Snoopy-vulture scowl, and Kurt Russell saunters in for a few
entertaining scenes as a shifty covert ops honcho. All of the actors, starting
with the always-endearing Diesel, are agreeable, and the dialogue is so
self-consciously macho, the action so cartoonishly overscaled that it’s hard
to resist the idea that the whole thing is a put-on, and start enjoying the
But every time a vehicle plummeted off a cliff in the Caucasus only to have
its passengers emerge looking better than I do after a good night’s sleep,
every time somebody leapt from one vehicle to another with barely a bruise,
every time a car jumped from a parking garage and delivered a duffel bag to
a helicopter in flight, some party-pooper part of me couldn’t help but think,
this sort of vehicular fantasy, seductive even for a non-gearhead like me,
isn’t harmless. The mindset it creates may have contributed to the death of one of this
movie’s own stars.
Furious 7 is overlong, like many action blockbusters, but I
can’t claim that I wasn’t diverted by some of the movie’s preposterous excesses. But it still may qualify as one
of the stupider, more irresponsible movies I’ve ever seen, and when it made
me smile, I thought I could sense my Mom scowling at me.