Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Directed by: James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Insidious: Chapter 2”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6”)

If nothing else, the evolution of the “Fast & Furious” series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait, is de facto family leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals? Oh, remember how much fun “Fast Five” was?

The seventh film in the franchise opens with villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vowing revenge on Dom and his family for what they did to Shaw’s brother Owen (Luke Evans) back in “Fast & Furious 6.” Don’t remember what happened in the last film? No big deal, because “Furious 7” doesn’t really care either. The film does do some serious continuity house-cleaning though, finally putting to rest the strangely out of timeline stinger of the third film, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” by sending Dom to Japan after Deckard kills Han (Sung Kang) and blows up Dom’s house in Los Angeles. After Han’s funeral, Dom confronts Deckard in a head-on collision, only to be interrupted by a black ops military team led by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody (ugh), who ultimately let Deckard slip away. But Nobody has a deal for Dom: track down a surveillance technology called God’s Eye and Dom can use it to find Deckard.

The dumb, convoluted mess of a plot notwithstanding, the biggest issue I had with “Furious 7” is the very real ghost of Paul Walker looming heavily over everything. Walker was killed during a high speed crash in a souped-up sports car during a break in filming “Furious 7” around Thanksgiving in 2013. Walker still had plenty of scenes left to shoot, and instead of scrapping the project and starting over, the filmmakers rewrote the script and finished Walker’s arc with his real-life brothers and digital masks as stand-ins. The knowledge of the late star’s tragic death from an automobile accident paints many of the film’s set pieces in a ghoulish light, namely the numerous thoroughly destructive car crashes scattered across the movie that characters walk away from without a scratch, including the Virtual Paul Walker, oddly and unsettlingly silent during too many scenes.

Diesel’s Dom goes on and on about family during the movie, and you can’t help but feel the real life loss of his friend Walker creep in over all the stupid plot points and impossibly ridiculous stunts he takes part in. There’s a real sadness here as the film works hard to retire Walker’s franchise-founding Brian O’Connor with old footage, computer graphics and the backs of other people’s heads. Maybe this is the catharsis Vin Diesel and fans needed to move forward, and maybe next time Dom and crew can have some fun again.

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