Fast-moving fight scenes, outrageous auto antics and a sprinkling of ridiculous one-liners make "Furious 7" a campy, crowd-pleasing escape.
Never mind that the film repeatedly presents the impossible — a muscle car attacks an airborne helicopter — fans of the franchise know to suspend disbelief at the door. With nonstop action from start to finish, it's easy — if a bit exhausting — to go along for the high-speed ride.
Reality intrudes at the end: The film is dedicated to Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in 2013, and concludes with a montage of images of the actor from his five previous "Fast and Furious" appearances. Walker's brothers acted as stand-ins and special effects were used to maintain his presence throughout his final film, which was still in production when he died.
There are a couple of creepy allusions to his death in the film that could briefly jar viewers. At one point, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) asks Brian (Walker) to promise their team won't face any more funerals. When Brian replies, "Just one more," he's referring to that of the film's villain (Jason Statham), but one can't help but think of the actor's own accidental death.
Another scene shows Brian telling wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) that if she doesn't hear from him after the crew's latest mission, she should "move on." It almost feels like a message to his co-stars.
Like its predecessors, the seventh installment of the hit franchise features a multicultural cast, international settings and a dazzling array of cars. While this critic is partial to American muscle cars, the $3.5 million Lykan Hypersport from Dubai-based W Motors is incredible to see. Only seven such vehicles exist. (No Lykan Hypersports were harmed during the making of the film.)
The story is just a framework for car chases and fight scenes. Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew are acclimating to life on the right side of the law when they're attacked by Shaw (Statham), bent on avenging the death of his brother, who was killed in "Fast & Furious 6." Shaw is elusive, and the crew needs help. They're approached by secret operative Mr. Nobody (a smiling and smarmy Kurt Russell), who promises to aid in taking out Shaw if Dom's crew can secure a breakthrough tracking device for the U.S. government. Meanwhile, a group of mercenaries, led by an underused Djimon Honsou, is also willing to kill for the tracking device, which can locate anyone on the globe by hacking into myriad digital networks.
Directed by James Wan ("Saw," ''Insidious"), "Furious 7" scores with unprecedented car stunts. A cargo plane drops various parachute-equipped cars onto a curving road in the Caucasus Mountains. Amazingly, all the cars land upright where they are supposed to. Hilariously, Dom and the others are shown "steering" the vehicles as they fly through the air.
Another awesome sequence shows a sports car crashing through glass windows as it jumps from skyscraper to skyscraper in Abu Dhabi.
When the characters aren't in their cars, they're fist-fighting, and Wan's shooting style makes those scenes appear illuminated by strobe light.
Even Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the lone female driver on the crew, throws blows — in a gown and heels — battling an all-woman security team led by MMA fighter Ronda Rousey. Though Letty is depicted as an equal among the boys, there is a sexist undertone to the film. Attractive women are set dressing and Roman and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) play rock, paper, scissors for "dibs" on a woman.
While that may be comic for some, most of the funny comes from security agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), with lines like, "Daddy's got to go to work," after which he busts his arm out of a plaster cast, Hulk-style, just by flexing.
It all adds up to an over-the-top escapist romp, which is exactly what "Fast & Furious" fans expect.
"Furious 7," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language." Running time: 140 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .