RATING |

One of the better aspects of the Fast and Furious series is that it's smart enough to treat its audience like beloved children: never patronizing, never talking down to us. It pleases us with explosions, placates us with lingering shots on beautiful cars, and when things get too complicated, it distracts us with something shiny.

In Furious 7, the seventh film in the mega-popular car-racing, international-action series, the complications come in the form of plot. But as soon as we might begin to question how little sense it makes, we're treated to an opulent party, epic hand-to-hand combat between two women in full-length ball gowns, and a car that flies through the air.

Furious 7 is layered in such a way that there's actually quite a bit going on, but these plot points are really just excuses to set up the next action set pieces.

In this one, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) for leaving his younger bro, the baddie of Fast & Furious 6 (Luke Evans), in a coma. Deckard's hunting skills lead the team in search of a hacker (Game of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel), which, more important, leads them to parachute their cars out of a plane, drive through buildings in Abu Dhabi, and return to race in their hometown streets of Los Angeles.

As in each franchise installment since the beginning, the ante of each kiss-kiss-bang-(boom!)-bang is upped exponentially, creating a dizzying array of effects that lull us into not caring who Kurt Russell's character is or how everybody is put in harm's way, yet no one seems to bleed.

In addition to the vehicular feats of daring, there's also quite a bit of hand-to-hand combat in director James Wan's first attempt at the series, with special props to MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (becoming quite the sought-after screen presence) and Thai action star Tony Jaa, who gets only one line, but quite enough screen time to show off his skill.

It's all dumb, but it's wonderfully, comfortably dumb in just the right way.

We don't show up exclusively for the fast cars and explosions (of which there are many), either. As reiterated over (and over and over) again by each character, the Fast & Furious series is as much about family as it is about cars. And Furious 7 marks the end for one its family members: Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in 2013 while filming was still going on. The movie's release was delayed nine months while Walker's brothers, Cody and Caleb, stepped in for their deceased sibling as a body double. Walker's face was CGI-ed onto theirs.

The effect is considerably less creepy than it sounds, with only a moment or so that feels overwhelmingly like you're watching a dead man's face floating atop another man's body.

Walker gets a farewell worthy of the series: overwrought, overly long, and exactly what we want.

Furious 7 *** (out of four stars)

Directed by James Wan. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Dwayne Johnson. Distributed

by Universal Pictures.

Running Time: 2 hours and 17 mins.

Parent's Guide: PG-13 (violence, action, mayhem, strong language).

Playing at: Area theaters.EndText

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@mollyeichel