Friday, April 3, 2015

SPEED KILLS

Opening this weekend:



Furious SevenMy 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 silliness.

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.

1 comment:

  1. speed sucks. still, I do enjoy a well designed chase scene. Mostly though, when I'm watching a dvd or broadcast, I run past through the scenes. I pretend I'm doing something better with the otherwise wasted moments, as if I might be doing something more exciting when they're all added up, like watching a better movie.

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