Review – Fast And Furious 7

It comes to something when the sight of the Furious Gang launching their fleet of souped-up super cars out of a plane is just another crazy day for a franchise that has well and truly gone into overdrive.

Fast and Furious 7 shows there's still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don't think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride

Fast and Furious 7 shows there’s still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don’t think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride

Whether by accident or design, the adventures of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and co have hit upon the perfect formula of cars, cartoon action and complete craziness that has proved to be box office gold dust and all-but guaranteed a further sequel.

While the lurid focus on female flesh would make Michael Bay proud, horror maestro James Wan nevertheless takes the wheel with an assuredness that belies any fan fears that he might fail to step out of the long shadow cast by F&F alumnus Justin Lin.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) encounter the enigmatic Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) in Fast And Furious 7

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) encounter the enigmatic Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) in Fast And Furious 7

Wan’s job was made nigh-on impossible with the tragic death of series stalwart Paul Walker. We’ll probably never know what Fast and Furious 7 would have been had its co-lead survived, but the film we have (rewritten to address his departure from the franchise) is a very fitting send off for an actor who got better with each instalment and provides a genuinely moving final scene that will have anyone invested in the series wiping away a tear.

The spectre of death hangs over the film; from the carnage unleashed by ex-special forces hard case Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as revenge for what happened to his brother Owen (Luke Evans) in F&F 6, to the quieter moments; most hauntingly when Dom’s crew mourn the loss of one of their ‘family’ and Brian (Walker) responds to Tej’s (Ludacris) plea for there to be no more funerals with the prophetic line: “Just one more…”

Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast And Furious 7

Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast And Furious 7

As well as being Walker’s final movie, F&F 7 also takes the franchise in a whole new direction with the introduction of Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell), leader of a typically well-stocked covert ops unit who offers to help put down Shaw in return for Dom, Brian and the others locating an all-powerful computer program called the ‘God’s eye’.

There are teasings of it here (in particular during a covert infiltration of an Abu Dhabi’s prince’s hotel penthouse party), but one can foresee future films following in the footsteps of Mission: Impossible, with Dom’s crew choosing to accept increasingly outlandish assignments from Mr Nobody.

Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) go toe-to-toe in Fast And Furious 7

Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) go toe-to-toe in Fast And Furious 7

The addition of Statham to a heaving cast of alpha males adds an extra spice to proceedings. Shaw’s motivations make him dangerous and unpredictable, while his Terminator-esque relentlessness and seeming inability to sustain injury means he’s also fun to have around.

The film is bookended by two satisfyingly titanic fist fights involving Statham; the first (and best) against Diplomatic Security service agent Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time); and the second with Dom atop a multi-storey car park being besieged by mad-as-a-lorry mercenary Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).

A typically understated scene from Fast And Furious 7

A typically understated scene from Fast And Furious 7

However, it’s the eye-popping motor madness that’s most fun, what with the aforementioned flying cars sequence (nicely referencing an earlier moment when Brian, having spotted his son throwing a toy car out of the window, says “cars don’t fly!”) and an equally unlikely scene when Dom drives off the side of a mountain and thinks nothing of it.

Even this pales in comparison, though, to the truly outrageous sight of Dom and Brian jumping a sports car from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another… before doing it again. Quite how they’ll top that one in F&F 8 is anyone’s guess.

Fast and Furious 7 shows there’s still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don’t think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.

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Review – The Expendables 3

They may be old enough to know better, but try telling that to Sly and the Family Crone as the Geriaction poster boys dispense more old school justice.

Quite how much steam is left in this franchise, or its stars, (don't be fooled by the 'one last ride' tagline) is highly debatable, but The Expendables 3 remains a diverting enough way to spend two hours with the oldies

Quite how much steam is left in this franchise, or its stars, (don’t be fooled by the ‘one last ride’ tagline) is highly debatable, but The Expendables 3 remains a diverting enough way to spend two hours with the oldies

The 80s was a pretty naff decade for many reasons, but it did deliver a new kind of action film featuring a new kind of action star; one that didn’t ask you to think too much about what it was you were watching, rather to trust in the knowledge that the good guy would always win and kill a lot of people along the way.

They may not have been blessed with matinĂ©e idol looks, but that didn’t matter to the box office generated by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and, to a lesser extent, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris et al.

Sly Stallone reprises his role as Barney Ross in The Expendables 3

Sly Stallone reprises his role as Barney Ross in The Expendables 3

The ‘one-man-war-machine’ genre largely disappeared to the DVD shelves during the late 90s and early 2000s, but made a big screen comeback in the latter half of the decade, most notably in the fun Liam Neeson flick Taken (2008). Not wanting to miss out, Stallone wrote and directed the insane Rambo (2008), in which the monosyllabic Vietnam vet turns the Burmese army into a giant hamburger with the aid of a massive machine gun.

Taking screenwriter David Callaham’s pitch and running with it, Sly co-wrote and directed The Expendables in 2010, essentially The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Wild Geese (1978) featuring 21st century stunts and hardware in the hands of guys who should be lining up for their weekly pension.

Arnold Schwarzenegger with trademark cigar as Trench Mauser opposite Harrison Ford's CIA operative Max Drummer in The Expendables 3

Arnold Schwarzenegger with trademark cigar as Trench Mauser opposite Harrison Ford’s CIA operative Max Drummer in The Expendables 3

Although hardly earth shattering, it more than wiped its face at the box office and instigated the inevitable follow-ups. The team this time faces that old action cinema trope – one of their own who’s gone rogue and is out for vengeance, in this case Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson).

Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and the rest of the Expendables are tasked by CIA operative Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) to track down Stonebanks, who has become a highly successful arms dealer. However, when things don’t go as planned Barney decides it’s time to inject some younger, fresher blood and recruits a quartet of new faces (including Ronda Rousey’s Luna) into the team.

Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) get knives out in The Expendables 3

Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) get knives out in The Expendables 3

Anyone expecting anything apart from more of the same will be in for a disappointment with The Expendables 3. Stallone previously indicated he wanted more humour in this latest escapade but, if anything, it has even fewer chuckles than the previous two films. Part of the reason is the arc surrounding Gibson’s character, whose bloodthirsty quest for revenge isn’t the sort of plotline that gets played for laughs.

Director Patrick Hughes keeps things zipping along and knows his way around an action set piece, especially the final firefight that takes place in and around a wrecked building (he’s clearly getting practice in for his English language remake of The Raid). The stunt work is also well handled, in particular an awesome motorcycle stunt in which one of the team bypasses the stairs to get several floors up on the building and a moment early on when Wesley Snipes’ Doctor Death flings himself from a train as it’s about to hit a prison (you’d think Snipes would have had enough of prisons by now).

The boys (and girl) are back in town in The Expendables 3

The boys (and girl) are back in town in The Expendables 3

With such a hefty cast it’s not always easy to remember who’s doing what (aside from just killing people) and the new recruits don’t really add enough to warrant their inclusion. Schwarzenegger looks like he’s at least not phoning it in this time, although Ford has that usual I’m-too-good-for-this look on his face and Banderas tries too hard to be zany as sharpshooter Galgo.

Of the rest, Gibson relies on his mad-eyed schtick to play the villain and Grammer adds a dose of humour as deadpan mercenary Bonaparte. Meanwhile, Stallone, Statham et al do what they do best.

Quite how much steam is left in this franchise, or its stars, (don’t be fooled by the ‘one last ride’ tagline) is highly debatable, but The Expendables 3 remains a diverting enough way to spend two hours with the oldies.

Review – Homefront

The script may be expendable, but Jason Statham does what he does best in this enjoyably old school action flick written by Sylvester Stallone.

Homefront is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it gets the job done and offers up another star vehicle for Mr Chrome Dome

Homefront is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it gets the job done and offers up another star vehicle for Mr Chrome Dome

Following the touchy-feely Hummingbird (aka Redemption), The Stath is back on more familiar ground with his third film of the year.

Phil Broker (Jason Statham) enjoys some quality time with daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in Homefront

Phil Broker (Jason Statham) enjoys some quality time with daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in Homefront

Since breaking out as a leading man in 2002’s The Transporter, Statham has methodically turned himself into a bankable action man. It speaks to his star wattage that his movies have attracted increasingly big name casts, whether it’s opposite Robert De Niro and Clive Owen in Killer Elite or Jennifer Lopez in Parker earlier this year.

Slumming it they may be, but Homefront co-stars James Franco, Winona Ryder and a barely recognisable Kate Bosworth nevertheless add an extra touch of class to proceedings.

Drug kingpin Gator (James Franco) and his white trash sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth) in Homefront

Drug kingpin Gator (James Franco) and his white trash sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth) in Homefront

Statham plays Phil Broker, who retired as a DEA agent after helping to take down a notorious biker gang. He retreats to a seemingly sleepy Louisiana town with his young daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) but, following a series of improbable coincides, finds his past catching up with him after getting on the wrong side of a bunch of redneck meth dealers led by Gator (Franco).

Despite receiving a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination all those years ago for Rocky, Stallone’s range as a scriptwriter is relatively limited. The premise of Homefront is pretty basic, but Sly at least injects Gator and his trailer trash sister Cassie (Bosworth) with a more interesting human dimension than we’re used to seeing in these kinds of flicks. That said, you’d be hard pushed to remember/care about any of the dialogue.

Phil Broker (Jason Statham) confronts Gator (James Franco) and girlfriend Cheryl (Winona Ryder) in Homefront

Phil Broker (Jason Statham) confronts Gator (James Franco) and girlfriend Cheryl (Winona Ryder) in Homefront

Imagine that Alien from Spring Breakers had a brother and you’d be pretty close to nailing Franco’s Gator. Using that same crooked smile (minus the gold teeth), sleazy demeanour and southern drawl, Franco may not inhabit the part as thoroughly as he did the drug-dealing Alien, but it’s a fun performance and you half expect him to say “look at my shit” when he’s showing white trash lover Cheryl (Ryder, looking out-of-place) around his meth lab.

Jason Statham doing what he does best in Homefront

Jason Statham doing what he does best in Homefront

Director Gary Fleder goes through the motions somewhat, using warm colours and clunky pianos in the scenes between Broker and his loving daughter, while – surprise surprise – juxtaposing this a desaturated look for the scenes involving the cold-hearted bikers who ride into turn seeking vengeance.

Although the interplay between Statham and Vidovic is nicely judged by both actors, the film inevitably lives or dies on its action scenes and it’s here the film doesn’t disappoint. In The Stath’s reliable hands, the moments of ass-kicking are explosively handled, in particular the bullet-tastic showdown between Broker and the bikers.

Homefront is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it gets the job done and offers up another star vehicle for Mr Chrome Dome.

Review – Hummingbird

Britain’s last action hero Jason ‘The Stath’ Statham flexes his acting muscles as much as his real ones in this low-key curiosity.

Whether Hummingbird turns out to be a one-off diversion on Statham's action-packed career path we'll wait and see, but I for one would welcome more roles like this from Mr Chrome Dome

Whether Hummingbird turns out to be a one-off diversion on Statham’s action-packed career path we’ll wait and see, but I for one would welcome more roles like this from Mr Chrome Dome

Whether you like Statham or not (and there are plenty who don’t), there’s no denying the former diver and black market trader has done the business on his own terms.

I for one have a huge amount of respect for Statham. While many of his action man peers rely on straight-to-DVD trash to make a living, Mr Chrome Dome has become a genuine movie star in his own right. A big reason for this is because he (mostly) tends to choose his films wisely and isn’t afraid to send his hard man persona up.

Down and out Joseph 'Joey' Smith (Jason Stathom) in Hummingbird

Down and out Joseph ‘Joey’ Smith (Jason Statham) in Hummingbird

Film series like The Transporter and the two Expendables movies may be his bread and butter, but with his latest Hummingbird (released as Redemption in the States and, erroneously, Crazy Joe in France) he gets down to the serious business of acting… while still kicking ass and taking names.

Statham plays Joseph ‘Joey’ Smith, who’s deserted from the Royal Marines following a traumatic tour of duty in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and is living day-to-day on the streets in London. He escapes a couple of brutal gangsters and breaks into a swish apartment, whose owner is out-of-town for several months. While getting himself back on his feet he tries to help Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), whose shelter saved him when he was at his lowest ebb, while also looking for revenge against the low life who murdered his girlfriend.

I don't Adam and Eve it, Jason Statham's crying in Hummingbird

I don’t Adam and Eve it, Jason Statham’s crying in Hummingbird

Played straight for the most part, writer-director Steven Knight revisits the same down and dirty side of the Big Smoke he explored in his script for David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Knight clearly knows the city well and, with the help of cinematographer Chris Menges (who also shot the Colin Farrell gangland drama London Boulevard) captures it beautifully. Shot mostly at night, the camera lovingly follows Smith as he silently walks the streets.

When it comes, the violence is as nasty as you would expect in a Statham picture, although it doesn’t wallow in it. In fact the only nod to Stath’s better known fare comes when Smith, challenged by a goon holding a blade, utters the immortal line “you got a knife? I got a spoon”.

A broken Joey Smith (Jason Statham) is held by Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek) in Hummingbird

A broken Joey Smith (Jason Statham) is held by Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek) in Hummingbird

No-one would argue Hummingbird should win any prizes for originality, although the nods to Mike Hodges’ classic 1971 crime thriller Get Carter are pretty blatant, right down to the way he dispatches one particularly loathsome individual.

That being said, there are enough moments here to make the film stand on its own two feet. The parallel, for instance, in the opening moments between an aerial shot of Helmand featuring radio chatter and one of London is very nicely handled and sets up the rest of the movie well.

Joey Smith (Jason Stathom) sets his sights on his prey in Hummingbird

Joey Smith (Jason Statham) sets his sights on his prey in Hummingbird

And what of Statham himself? In interviews for the film, he’s spoken of his pride in the film, while the work he went through for the role is evident on screen as he taps into previously unseen emotions (guilt, weakness, depression).

Whether Hummingbird turns out to be a one-off diversion on Statham’s action-packed career path we’ll wait and see, but I for one would welcome more roles like this from Mr Chrome Dome.