Furious 7

Furious-7

2015

Universal Pictures/Original Film/One Race Films/Relativity Media/Media Rights Capital

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

I have a lot of admiration for “The Fast and The Furious” film series. The first movie “The Fast and The Furious” was little more than an unofficial remake of “Point Break” substituting street racing clubs for surfers. Gradually the movies changed and developed into crime thrillers, teenage coming of age dramas and heist movies. With “Fast & Furious 6” and now FURIOUS 7 they’ve become full tilt boogie action-adventure spectacles with international locations, larger-than-life villains, breathtaking fight scenes and mind-boggling stunts that easily match and yes, sometimes top what you would expect to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. There a scene in this movie where silky smooth spymaster Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) “This is the world you’re in now, like it or not.” Which I interpret as a sly hint that this type of globe-trotting espionage capers is where the franchise is heading now. And if we’ve got more movies as good as FURIOUS 7 coming, then I eagerly await them.

It seems as if life has finally settled down for Dominic and his family. He’s helping Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) try and regain her lost memories. Ex-cop/Ex-FBI agent turned professional criminal Brian O’Conner has resolved to become a family man with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son Jack even though he reveals to Mia that he misses the jazz of his dangerous life.

None of them have to worry about being bored. Dom’s house is blown up and he’s informed by his ally Luke Hobbs of the Diplomatic Security Service (Dwayne Johnson) that Dom and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) the older and definitely meaner brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) the villain from the last movie who is now in a coma. Deckard is out for revenge and has already killed Han Lue (Sung Kang)

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Dom is contacted by Mr. Nobody who offers to help Dom catch Deckard if Dom and his crew will help him stop a vicious mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) from getting his hands on God’s Eye. It’s a frighteningly sophisticated computer program that can use any digital device in the world to track any individual (think of it as the little sister of the Big Brother-ish Machine from “Person of Interest’) and Jakande has the creator of God’s Eye, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) After rounding up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) the band is back together and they set out to rescue the hacker, recover God’s Eye and save the world.

Well, maybe not save the world, but there certainly is that kind of feel as our heroes race around the globe from the Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles. And in each one these locals there are jaw-dropping action sequences that are insanely preposterous but I couldn’t help but watch with a goofy grin on my mug because dammit, that’s the reason why I go to see movies of this type. Give me the insane and the preposterous every time.

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What’s even more amazing to me is that all this astounding action is served up by James Wan, who as far as I know has directed mainly horror movies. Who knew that this cat had this kind of action movie in him? And now that we know, he should be given nothing but action movies to do. Seriously, FURIOUS 7 would be an impressive piece of work from a seasoned action director. But coming from Wan, who hasn’t done this genre before…well, he gets a standing ovation from me.

By now, everybody knows their characters inside and out and in a way, we all do as well. The team just isn’t a team. It’s a family as well and while that aspect may feel like it’s being beaten to death at times, it’s such an essential element of these characters that there’s no way a “Fast and Furious” movie can do without it. Especially not when the story has these kinds of stakes, what with Torretto & Co. being hunted by Deckard for personal reasons. James Wan isn’t afraid to slow down the action to develop emotional scenes between his characters and that gives resonance to the story in-between the cars flying through buildings and parachuting out of planes.

There’s a lot of great fight scenes in here, more elaborate than I can remember being in the other movies. Paul Walker and Tony Jaa as Jakande’s Oddjob go at it. Michelle Rodguez and Ronda Rousey have a memorable throwdown that while I enjoyed the hell out it also had me wondering since when did Letty become such an accomplished martial artist that she’s able to take down three other opponents at the same time before her main bout with Rousey’s character? We also get Johnson vs. Statham and Diesel vs. Statham. There’s your money’s worth right there, partners.

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So should you see FURIOUS 7? What, are you kidding me? YES. It’s a non-stop action extravaganza that’s not afraid to show heart and emotion, especially at the movie’s end which is both a truly moving tribute to Paul Walker and a sendoff for Brian O’Connor. If they never do another “The Fast and The Furious” movie, FURIOUS 7 is a more than satisfying way to end the series. This is the rare film series that has has gotten bigger and better with each new entry (I won’t mention “Tokyo Drift” if you won’t, okay?) and I hope it only continues to get bigger and better. Highly Recommended.

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137 Minutes

PG-13

The Expendables 2

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Avi Lerner

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk

Story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk

Based on characters created by David Callaham

If they continue on making them this entertaining and this much fun, they can make Expendables movies from now until the lid is slammed shut on me. They last time I had this much fun watching a movie was when I saw “The Avengers” and for a lot of the same reason: I felt like I was watching a lot of old friends that I’ve known for years together at last. And like “The Avengers” which put together a bunch of classic Marvel superheroes on screen at the same time for the first time, THE EXPENDABLES 2 finally gives up what the first “Expendables” only teased us with. At last The Holy Trinity of Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis) standing shoulder to shoulder blasting the hell outta the bad guys.  It’s a stand-up and cheer moment for sure and it only gets better when none other than Chuck Norris joins the party.

But before that we get an absolutely outlandishly kick-ass pre-credits sequence where The Expendables invade Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman. The old crew is back together: leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren.) They also have a new member: Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) because you can never have enough snipers.

After the Nepal rescue, Barney is approached by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who still is not happy about the way the Vilena mission The Expendables undertook for him went down. He proposes a new mission to clean the slate. Barney will take on another new member, technical expert Maggie (Yu Nan) and fly to Albania to recover an item from a crashed airplane. The Expendables do so, only to have the item stolen from them by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his private terrorist army, The Sangs. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer that contains the blueprints for an abandoned Soviet Cold War era mine being used to store five tons of plutonium. Vilain and his right hand man Hector (Scott Adkins) have some really wicked plans for this plutonium.   It’s up to The Expendables to stop Vilain and if they have to blow up the country to save the world…well, that’s just what they’ll do.

And at times it does seem as if they’re going to blow up the country with all the explosions going off. Not to mention the horrendously high body count they rack up in their pursuit of Vilain. And that’s before The Expendables are joined by Mr. Church, the mysterious lone wolf commando Booker (Chuck Norris) and Barney’s rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who comes along for the ride. You can imagine the carnage that ensues with that kind of extra firepower added to the team.

And what a ride it is. Watching THE EXPENDABLES 2 for me is like stepping into a time machine and going back to the heyday of Action Movies: the 1980’s. I suspect that those of you, like me, who remember going to the theaters back then when it seemed like every week there was a new movie starring one of these guys playing will get more of a thrill just out of seeing these guys on screen together than anything else. Seeing them all together and obviously having so much fun is nothing less than a blast. And there’s a lot of inside jokes that I chuckled at but I suspect went right over the heads of most of the people in the theater I was watching the movie with.  My favorite one is when Barney casually mentions that Gunner has a degree in chemical engineering and threw away a promising career in that field for a girl. Google Dolph Lundgren and you’ll see why I found that funny. I also got a big grin out of Chuck Norris’ character being named Booker and being described as a lone wolf. Again, Google Chuck Norris and check out the synopses for “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Good Guys Wear Black” and you’ll get the joke.

With the new members of the team on board as well as Willis and Schwarzenegger having bigger roles in this one that means that Toll Road and Hale Caesar don’t have as much to say but they get just as much of their share of the mayhem. And I like how Randy Couture quietly reminds us that his character is the team’s intellectual by having Toll Road simply reading a book in the background while plot exposition is going on in the foreground. And while Hale Caesar does not have a show-stopping moment in this one as he did in “The Expendables” (but let’s face it…taking down an attack helicopter by throwing a missile at it is a tough act to beat) Terry Crews makes sure that when Hale Caesar does have something to do, it’s memorable.

I also liked the action sequences in THE EXPENDABLES 2 better than the first one. The editing on the first movie was way too choppy in several fight scenes and during the final assault. That’s not the problem here. The action scenes are wonderfully and cleanly shot, full of noise and energy and gloriously blood-drenched with plenty of really impressive practical stunts.

That’s not to say I liked everything about the movie. I didn’t like how one of my favorite characters from the first movie has what amounts to a glorified cameo and simply drops out of the movie. And I’m not merely being descriptive. The character actually does drop.  Charisma Carpenter is totally unnecessary in this movie.  Even more so than in the first one and really, there’s no reason for her character to be in either one of them. The subplot dealing with the relationship between her character and Statham’s Lee Christmas is even more ridiculous considering that Lee spends more time talking to Barney about it than he does to his supposed girlfriend. I’m a big fan of Charisma Carpenter and hey, if the movie wants to give me gratuitous shots of her in a scandalously skimpy dress wiggling and jiggling in a bar, I’m not gonna complain. But she’s too good an actress to be wasted on a three-minute scene that any actress could have played.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 2? If you saw the first one, absolutely. Even if you didn’t see the first one, go see THE EXPENDABLES 2. The action is spectacular, especially the Nepal rescue and the final showdown in an airport where Couture, Crews, Lundgren, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Willis decimate the Sangs while Stallone and Van Damme have their mano-a-mano deathmatch. The jokes are as fast as plentiful as the bullets and it’s just such a pleasure to see a good old fashioned Action Movie made by and starring talent who know what they’re doing and do it supremely well. THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets my highest recommendation.

103 minutes

Rated R

The Expendables

2010

Lionsgate

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Produced by Avi Lerner

Written by Sylvester Stallone and David Callaham

There are those who said even before the movie came out, speaking just on having seen the trailers that THE EXPENDABLES looked to be nothing more than Sylvester Stallone attempting to relive his glory days when he was one of the major action stars back in the 80’s.  These good folks, having regaled me with their smug wisdom sit back and ask me what I thought of that.

My response is that he does have glory days to remember and try to relive which is more than most of us will be able to say when we check out of this existence.  And he’s blessed that he can relive those days in some excellent company indeed in this movie.  THE EXPENDABLES will probably be most appreciated by those like me who remember the seemingly endless truckloads of action movies produced by Golan-Globus and Cannon Films back in the day.  THE EXPENDABLES is a love letter to the testosterone fueled action genre of the 1980’s and testosterone is exactly what you’re going to get.  Ladies who go see this movie should immediately check themselves in the rest room after viewing to be sure they aren’t growing hair on their chests or have a few more dangly bits they have no business having.

The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) are an elite team of mercenaries headquartered in a tattoo parlor owned by Tool (Mickey Rourke) who has retired from field duty but apparently handles the team’s accounts.   He sets up a meeting with the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who wants to hire The Expendables to take down General Garza (David Zayas) the brutal dictator of Vilena, a South American country that would be a paradise if it weren’t for Garza’s death squads running around doing what death squads do best: cause death.

Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) go down to recon the layout and finds out it stinks worse than houseguests who just won’t leave.  Seems as if Mr. Church didn’t tell them the whole story, surprise, surprise.  Garza’s just the front man.  Vilena is really being run by rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his two hulking huge henchmen (Steve Austin and Gary Daniels)  Barney and Lee escape from Vilena but they have to leave behind their contact Sandra (Gisele Itie)

Something about Sandra’s passion to deliver her country from the hell it’s becomes wakens something in Barney’s spirit and after a heart-to-heart with Tool, he’s determined to go back to Vilena and put things right.  Not for the money but for his own redemption.  Naturally his team can’t let him go it alone and that leads to The Expendables taking on an entire army in a massively apocalyptic battle that could easily qualify as Vietnam Part II.

I had a lot of fun watching THE EXPENDABLES.  Sometimes I’m awful easy to please and this movie had me right from the gunfight at the beginning.  A gunfight that itself had more of a body count than entire movies.  And who honestly can resist a movie that for the first time has the Holy Trinity of 80’s Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone & Willis) on screen together?  Oh, sure there are a lot of lines between the three that are nothing but nudge nudge wink wink to the audience but hey, it’s that kind of movie and I liked the whole “Hey! We’re puttin’ the band back together!’ feel of the movie even though this is the first time some of these guys have worked together.

Stallone and Statham work together as smoothly as if they’ve been making movies together for the past ten years.  Randy Couture was an unexpected source of humor as his character, demolitions expert Toll Road is the intellectual of the group.  Dolph Lundgren gets to demonstrate his trademark scowl as the psychologically damaged sniper Gunnar.  Jet Li also shows a surprising flair for comedy as he provides the movie’s running joke of him continually demanding a raise.  His deadpan delivery is what sells the running joke and I cracked up every time he came up with a new reason why he needs more money.

Everybody makes the most of their screen time and every one of the characters, good or bad gets a moment to show off which I really liked as both the good guys and bad guys are all accredited badasses and that makes the final showdown one between groups of equal skills and strength.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my gripes with the movie.  The Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren fight could have really been a David vs. Goliath type of match-up but the way it’s choreographed I really couldn’t appreciate Jet Li’s moves.  The Expendables all have colorful, wonderful names but I didn’t even know what the names of Randy Couture’s and Terry Crews’ characters were until I read them in the end credits.

The editing during the hand-to-hand combats were too choppy for me at times and one thing I really hate in a fight scene is not being able to tell who’s beating the piss outta who.

But that’s just me.  The whole point of THE EXPENDABLES is as simple as a hammer to the back of an unprotected head: put a dozen tough guy actors together in one movie and give them 103 minutes to shoot, stab, blow stuff up, run over everything in sight, smash, slice and generally raise cinematic hell.  And have a lot of fun doing it.  I know I had a lot of fun watching them do it.

Rated R:  For the astounding level of violence in this movie.  It’s not as jaw-droppingly brutal as say, the last 30 minutes of “Rambo” but its close.

103 minutes.