Furious 7

At last, after an extended wait, we finally get to see how the filmmakers of “Furious 7” completed their film. As most everyone knows, this is the sequel that suffered the death of its star, the charming Paul Walker. Rather than shut the production down, or rework the film to have Walker’s character killed off or (perhaps as offensive an idea) have another actor replace him, a far more admirable approach was made: the story was re-worked, Walker’s unfinished scenes were filled in through special effects and stand-ins and the film overall is an unabashedly emotional tribute to the actor. I wish I could tell you this was the best “Fast” sequel, but actually, this kinetic self parody peaks an hour in. Yet, it’s so exciting, I almost didn’t notice how this vehicle eventually winds up running on fumes.

Walker is back as cop-turned-criminal Brian O’Connor, the partner of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and one of the ensemble of street racers who now operate like a lead-footed Danny Ocean crew. The sudden appearance of a vengeance-minded killer (Jason Statham) causes Toretto’s gang to be on their guard. O’Connor is, yet again, urged by his wife (Jordana Brewster) to give the fast life a break. Then there’s Letty, embodied by Michelle Rodriguez who, unfortunately, has to keep playing the clumsy amnesia subplot carried over from the last movie. While Dwayne Johnson’s character, the wily Hobbs (a highlight of “Fast Five,” the best in the series) mostly sits this one out, we get Kurt Russell as a mysterious new character. He gives this movie as much fuel-injected juice as Johnson did his first time out.

The dialog is full of truly dumb, “tough guy” banter and, by the third act, this all becomes too busy, crowded and over-plotted.

Statham gives a one-note role to a thin character but, truth be told, he’s a great villain (something he proved in “Cellular” as well as he does here). Russell is fun to watch, seemingly playing an older, highly promoted take on his “Tequila Sunrise” character. As much as I like Djimon Hounsou, we don’t need him as a needless, additional villain, especially when Statham already provides such a potent threat. Rhonda Rousey’s one scene cameo is strictly for (literal) kicks but her “Expendables 3” role was a better showcase (and performance). Nathalie Emmanuel, playing a computer hacker, is another series newbie who gets a good introduction but seems on hand mostly for her leering bikini scene.

This is fun most of the way, from the visually spot-on introduction to Statham’s character, to the gloriously absurd free-fall scene. I’m a big fan of the 1994 B-movie “Terminal Velocity,” in which sky diver Charlie Sheen attempts to save a damsel who is locked in the trunk of a car, which has been dropped out of a plane in mid-air. Here, with not one but nearly a dozen cars flying through the air, I couldn’t suppress my huge grin.

Later, we get what I’ll refer to as the “cars don’t fly” scene, which is so sensational, it presents a problem. You wait for the movie to top its Abu Dhabi portion and it simply can’t. By the third act, this all becomes too busy, crowded and over-plotted.

I miss Paul Walker and like how the film sets out to pay the most loving tribute imaginable. That said, the effort to honor his last performance, complete filming and give his character a warm send-off is earnest but not entirely successful. There’s a few moments where it looks like they created a CGI version of him, which is as ambitious but clunky an effect as the CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger in the last “Terminator” movie.

The closing moments are, again, well intentioned but not entirely fitting. Diesel’s ongoing commentary about the importance of family is only half-true: remember, for the first four movies, Toretto was trying to kill O’Connor! The closing remarks made about O’Connor are obviously about Walker and not the role. It’s kind of touching but somewhat out of place, in a series where the emphasis has always been vehicular mayhem, destruction, close up shots of female booties, and criminals getting away with unlawful behavior.

There’s an awkward set up for another sequel. Unless they can top this movie’s best scene, this really should be the end of the road.