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The Overstuffed, Overdone, Overlong, Cheerfully Absurd 'Furious 7'

At the end of The Fast and the Furious, Brian (Paul Walker) gives former enemy Dom (Vin Diesel) a car so he can drive alone into the sunset. Fourteen years and six films later, there's precious little alone time for the Furious clan. This lucrative franchise has so many recurring characters that they really should trade in their muscle cars and charter a team bus.

Overpopulation worthy of an X-Men flick is just one pothole for Furious 7, which at 137 minutes also suffers from bloating and repetition. Yet the first movie in the series to be directed by Saw's James Wan is as zippy, playful and amiably preposterous as the best of the previous models. The filmmakers even finesse the most conspicuous problem: Walker's November 2013 car-crash death, which occurred midway through the shoot.

The actor's already-filmed scenes were supplemented with CGI, doubles and unused footage from previous movies. But Wan and veteran Furious scripter Chris Morgan could have elected to write him out of much of the story, as they did with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). There's just not room for everyone in a movie that introduces three fresh villains, played by Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou and Tony Jaa, as well as two new allies, portrayed by Nathalie Emmanuel and onetime action star Kurt Russell (who now looks more like Richard Nixon than Snake Plissken). Plus an Iggy Azalea cameo.

Who's revving his engine for Fast 8? Jean-Claude Van Damme?

Statham enters first, as Deckard, the brother of a guy the F&F gang bested in the previous episode. Deckard wants revenge, and has the ex-special-forces skills to get it. His black-ops background underscores that the Furious saga, which began with L.A. drag racers, has detoured onto M:I's course. This movie's plot involves a new computer surveillance device coveted by both the U.S. government and a Bond-style super-baddie. And the action zooms from London to Tokyo, Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi and the Dominican Republic.

Back in L.A., Brian is driving a mini-van and making babies with Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom's sister. Meanwhile, amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) can't quite remember that she's Dom's longtime squeeze. She can still race like a demon, though, as she proves in one of several scenes that's part bikini beach party — complete with awestruck close-ups of thong-clad bottoms.

After Deckard's threat becomes evident, Dom and Brian mobilize Letty and regulars Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson). An anonymous government agent (Russell) promises to help, but only if the car club first rescues a computer prodigy (Emmanuel) who turns out also to be partial to swimsuits.

The plan involves driving through midair, a feat the filmmakers like so much they stage it several more times, under different pretexts. These nutty set pieces assert that F&F movies are about cars, even if they really aren't anymore. The stunts are also heavier-than-air homages to Hong Kong action movies, which are full of delirious gravity-denying moves — and have been a crucial influence on the series.

The gang's Asian member doesn't have much of a role this time, but that doesn't prevent Furious 7 from continuing the series' utopian vision of a post-racial world. Dom, the crew's closest thing to a philosopher king, even refers to his white, black and cafe-au-lait pals as "mi familia." That sentimental message is essential to the movie's appeal, even if it can't always be heard over the thumping hip-hop, thundering hard rock and shattering collisions.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Jenkins reviews movies for NPR.org, as well as for , which covers the Washington, D.C., film scene with an emphasis on art, foreign and repertory cinema.