How's tricks, Vin Diesel? I hope you're not tired of my letters. I manage to confine them to one every two years, because all I want to talk about with you (or with anyone, really) are the "Fast and Furious" movies. You'll remember that we originally had plans for July 2014, until your co-star Paul Walker's untimely death during a break from filming the latest chapter set into motion a mad, sad scramble to rework the story and salvage existing footage while properly honoring a man who died in a high-speed car crash. And it's no surprise that Walker's ghost looms large over the finished product, as it should.
But the often elegiac atmosphere (please try and keep up with the big words, Vin Diesel) in no way detracts from the relentlessly entertaining "Furious 7," which somehow one-ups previous "F&F" installments in terms of gravity-defying set pieces, stupid dialogue, juicy girl-butts, and emotional heart.
The brilliant coda to "Furious 6" tied the liberal "F&F" chronology together (it kind of goes 1-2-4-5-6-3 and now 7, right?) and set the stage for a swaggering Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw, intent on avenging his brother. With a seemingly limitless travel budget, Shaw heads to Los Angeles to steal some information and temporarily incapacitate Agent Hobbs (the colossal Dwayne Johnson), then he's off to deal with that nasty business in Tokyo, then it's back to L.A. to begin facing off against your Dom Toretto and his crew. And then everyone convenes in Azerbaijan because the awesome Kurt Russell says so. You got Snake Plissken himself as Mr. Nobody, a government spook who supplies the gang with an excuse to parachute cars into the Caucasus Mountains, save a gorgeous hacker, and use her skills to get the drop on the elusive Shaw.
Yes, Vin Diesel, I'm thumbnailing your own plot for you, but it's just so deliciously ridiculous. In 15 years a gaggle of dopey gearheads have morphed into an elite spy squad? I get that "Furious 7" is more turbocharged Mexican soap opera than Wiseman documentary, but the Abu Dhabi interlude drives this point home. In one opulent room MMA goddess Ronda Rousey and Michelle Rodriguez's still-amnesiac Letty tussle in evening gowns, while Toretto and Walker's Brian O'Conner cannon a million-dollar HyperSport between the upper floors of three luxury high-rises. "Cars don't fly," O'Conner worriedly mentions to Toretto in midair, echoing the words imparted earlier to O'Conner's little boy during playtime. But they did before, they do now, and come the killer conclusion, when Toretto lures the action back to the home-field advantage of L.A., they will again.
Director Justin Lin can be credited with jumpstarting the franchise after reuniting your main quartet for 2009's "Fast & Furious," and as "Insidious" director James Wan takes the "Furious 7" reins, "F&F" is arguably the most lucrative property -- excepting Bond, maybe -- in Hollywood. Basically, screenwriter Chris Morgan and his predecessors realized non-white people enjoy movies, too, and respectfully reflecting its multicultural audience on the screen equates to a license to print money. (The stunning machinery, massive explosions, breathtaking collateral damage, and impossibly sexy cast don't hurt, either.) Of course, the all-things-to-all-people conceit sometimes means that members of this rainbow coalition get short shrift, like Lucas Black briefly reprising his starring role from "Tokyo Drift," the dashing Djimon Hounsou as a bellowing warlord, or Muay Thai legend Tony Jaa as a persistent henchman.
Oh, Vin Diesel, I'm not going to sit here and pretend I ever thought Paul Walker was a good actor; the kindest thing I could say was that he had been getting better, but, man, was that bar low. If I'm being honest, none of you are that great -- I do miss Sung Kang as Han -- yet the entrenched and undeniable chemistry among Dom Toretto and the friends he calls family have always made the "F&F" flicks more than the sum of their noisy parts. (Walker's brothers standing in for reshoots, while not quite seamless, underscore the franchise's reliance upon the notion of family.) And it's this raw sentimentality that earns the very real tears brought upon by a denouement that's both surprisingly tasteful and absolutely bittersweet.
So until next time, Vin Diesel, ride or die.
Your friend ... I mean family,