The “Fast and Furious” franchise jumped the shark in episode 5, at precisely the moment when our hot-rodding heroes plowed through a block of Brazilian storefronts without batting an eye at the collateral victims. It not only jumped the shark, it snagged it with a grappling hook, strapped a nitro booster to its tail fin and rode the thing to an alternate universe where the laws of physics don’t apply.
Like its slightly more preposterous and enjoyable predecessor, the best way to appreciate “Furious 7” is as a purely mechanical fantasy, with no relation to real human behavior. Never mind the tear-jerking coda in which the producers pay homage to the late co-star Paul Walker; they already proved they could raise the dead in “Fast & Furious 6,” when they cynically resurrected the left-for-dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).
That episode ended with a minor character’s death and a tease to a sequel featuring Jason Statham as the villain. Here we learn that he’s an ex-British commando named Deckard Shaw, and he’s the vengeful brother of the villain in the previous movie. Shaw is gunning for Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of street racers, and his first stop is the super-cop complex in Southern California where agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) knows their whereabouts. Consumer alert: After tussling with Shaw, Johnson-as-Hobbs bows out of the movie for the next 90 minutes.
A parallel storyline is that a spy-agency spook who calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) needs Toretto & Co. to free a hacker named Ramsey from a Somali terrorist (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsey has developed an eavesdropping software that can track anyone in the world. If Toretto helps Mr. Nobody get the software for the feds, they’ll use it to find Shaw. And yet, moments before he makes his pitch to Toretto, Mr. Nobody allows Shaw to scamper away unmolested!
Nonsensical plots are as integral to the “Fast and Furious” series as bulletproof beefcake and street-racer groupies in thong bikinis. Here the story takes them from their LA clubhouse, where pregnant Mia (Jordana Brewster) again encourages Brian (Walker) to go have fun with the boys, to Azerbaijan, where they slalom down mountainsides in their indestructible muscle cars and discover that Ramsey is a British babe (Nathalie Emmanuel), to Abu Dhabi, where they party with infidels and catapult a million-dollar Maserati between towers of a high-rise.
That’s an awfully long road to a desultory death race in downtown L.A.
By now, the pressure to top the previous movies has popped the hot-air from this franchise. The grunted catch-phrases, the implausible escapes, the plot holes the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats — it’s all pitched at a particular audience like a dog whistle that fully grown humans can’t hear. If you don’t crave the taste of motor oil on your popcorn, “Furious 7” can’t end fast enough.
What “Furious 7” • Two stars out of four • Run time 2:17 • Rating PG-13 • Content Prolonged sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language