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film review

In Furious 7, tough-guy leader Dom (Vin Diesel) assembles a crew of expert motorists for ‘one last ride.’

By about the time of the fourth Fast and the Furious film, the question of "Why does this exist?" sort of receded. By now, nobody questions these movies. They just are. They rip and roar and drift in their own little laneway, flanked by roaring fans accustomed to the series' cartoonish brand of modern carsploitation. They're not so much a part of the larger pop culture ecosystem as they are adjacent to it. Like Ernest movies.

Furious 7 is the final film to feature star Paul Walker, who died in 2013. It sidesteps any heavy-handed funerary air until its last act. Instead, the film pays homage to Walker in faster, furious-er fashion, whipping straight into the high-octane action and improbable car chases that have defined the series, as it morphed from a simple street-racing movie to a superhero franchise on four wheels.

The villain this time around is Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), brother of the dispatched bad guy from the previous film and hell-bent on avenging his family name. Statham's presence, and especially his ravenous scenery chewing in the hyperactive opening sequence, bolsters Furious 7's self-conscious B-movie bona fides right out of the gate. Both Statham and the wired, fast-motion camerawork of director James Wan evoke something of Neveldine/Taylor's original Crank – the kind of thick-headed, energy-drink action cinema the Furious movies aspire to.

With their car-stealing/secret-agent gang under threat, tough-guy leader Dom (Vin Diesel, who looks more and more like someone Photoshopped Yul Brynner's face on a steroidal California Raisin), calls up his bro (Walker) and assembles a crew of expert motorists for "one last ride." This involves, in no particular order: parachuting cars out of an airplane, playing "hot potato" by swapping a foxy computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) between three moving vehicles, jumping a car between not one but two Abu Dhabi skyscrapers, Diesel's car basically humping Statham's car, and a car being just straight-up driven off a cliff as a last-ditch "tactic."

It's all entertaining enough, I suppose. But there's a twisted coldness under the action that's anxiously concealed by the characters' refrains of the importance of "family" and sticking together and other ostensibly nice stuff. In David Cronenberg's Crash, about people who sexually fetishize automobiles (and in particular automobile accidents), one such enthusiast describes car-crash fetishism as a way of "reshaping the human body." Muscle and steel become one, gory sinew entwined with leather, tears exchanged for acrid wiper fluid.

The Furious films feel like the action movies – or the live-action Saturday morning cartoons – for this cruel posthuman present where mechanization has blurred the line between man and machine. When Diesel's Dom is felled in a four-wheeled fracas, it's surprising that the characters don't attempt to revive him by shocking him with jumper cables and jamming his heart with an syringe full of Pennzoil.

At some basic level, the appeal of such automotive arch stupidity is understandable. Furious 7 offers dumb, easy fun and never pretends to be anything else. But the way the baseness of this entertainment can be so effortlessly calibrated to appeal to explosion-happy galoots, clapping at each rev and burnout like trained seals, feels a little troubling. It brings to mind another Crash quote, this time from J.G. Ballard's source novel.

"I wanted to rub the human race in its own vomit," says the book's narrator, "and force it to look in the mirror." The reflection offered in the puckered muscle and polished chrome of Furious 7's heroes feels like a cheery escapist distortion of a culture that more closely resembles the smashed steel, mangled bone and blood and vomit of a plain ol' unsexy car wreck.