When I finally got around to visiting Las Vegas I discovered that it was both exactly what I expected and also something completely different. When you are outside on the sidewalk the strip looks exactly as the movies have portrayed it - it is overflowing with tacky neon, it is full of hustle and bustle, and it is a total mishmash of incongruent elements like Pyramids and Eiffel Towers. But when you get off the strip it is a different story, because the inside of one casino is completely interchangeable with the inside of any other casino. A blackjack table looks like a blackjack table whether it's inside a Roman themed casino or in a Wild West themed casino. An Ellen Degeneres brand slot machine is an Ellen Degeneres brand slot machine regardless of who collects the cash it takes in. One zombified group of lever pullers looks like any other group of zombified lever pullers. Las Vegas is exotic on the outside, but incredibly samey on the inside.
Which is why Furious Seven is the Las Vegas of movies.
You see, the Furious franchise is increasingly composed of incongruous elements. The first Fast and the Furious movie was a straight forward movie about street racers and the series has never entirely lost sight of that; there is always going to be a few scenes in each movie where muscles cars save the day through horse power and chutzpah. But the franchise has also added a bunch of unlikely elements as it has progressed.
For example, it has also morphed into something of a soap opera. Dominic Toretto - the leader of the Fast crew, played by Vin Diesel - was in love with Letty, but she died in one movie, except another movie revealed that she was still alive but she had amnesia and now she doesn't remember loving him. In between scenes of hot rods nearly flying off the edges of mountains Furious Seven dares to ask: will Dom and Letty ever rekindle their doomed love?
And of course, the Furious films have also become quasi-comedies. There are the silly elements that it is playing straight - there are a lot of scenes where supermodels try to hack into computers during high speed car chases that are obviously laughable - but there is a surprising amount of intentional comedy in this movie, too. Of the six (SIX!) main members of the crew at least two are purposefully used as comic relief, bantering in the background while the Alpha dogs are getting into fistifghts with international terrorists.
Which reminds me: these films have also become spy thrillers. That's right: at some point these street toughs became globe trotting secret agents, and now they've been handpicked by a high muckity muck in our shadow government to fly to Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi to try to steal back a top secret surveillance program. Although the idea that the CIA would deploy a team of drag racing criminals to do black ops in the mountains of Azerbaijan instead of the Navy Seals is obviously insane Furious Seven just waves it away. Of course the geniuses who are really running the country would want to use the best team at their disposal for such a sensitive mission, and aren't the Furious crew the best?
So, yes, Furious Seven's script has a whole bunch of elements that shouldn't belong together; there are times when it feels like this movie is five different movies Frankensteined together. But for the most part the incongruent elements synthesize quite nicely in Fast Seven. This movie doesn't feel like an unshaped mess; it feels like a modern blockbuster, which is a movie that is trying to give everything to everyone. Your average superhero movie or CGI heavy monster movie knows that pizza and egg rolls don't really belong on the same buffet, but they don't care, and if they do a good enough job, you won't care, either.
The truth is that one misplaced element is a fuck up but throw ten of them together and you have a style. The same way that the Las Vegas strip only works because every casino is trying to do something garish Furious Seven only works because every scene is maxed out to eleven. It is ridiculous that Dom's crew travels all over the globe and everyone they see is super attractive and wearing skimpy clothes. But how are you going to complain about that little detail when this is a movie where cars fly? And how are you going to complain about how silly it is to have one scene where cars fly when there are actually three separate occasions when cars fly in this movie? At a certain point you just have to accept that this movie is not interested in realism, it is interested in entertaining, and that's why it has basically built an indoor rollercoaster inside of a Pyramid that's next to an Eiffel tower.
Furious Seven might be the ultimate American movie in the way that Las Vegas is the ultimate American city. All the high ideals are there - it is a melting pot of a movie with a fully racially integrated cast, and it is an undeniably ambitious movie told in big, bold strokes. But America's worst tendencies are also on display - Furious Seven is willfully stupid, since it purposefully ignoring both history and logic, and it is hardwired to appeal to our basest sex-and-violence loving instincts. Your experience with it will be entirely dependent on your ability to look past the bad to see the good. If you can ignore the fact that the plot is overly convoluted and never coheres into anything sensible - well, you'll probably love it. But if you want a movie that actually, you know, tells a story...
Personally, I bought into what Furious Seven was selling, in large part because I was prepared for it's utterly shameless approach. I don't just mean that I had checked my nitpickiest habits at the door - although I had; when I bought my ticket I knew what I was getting into. No, I mean that I saw this movie while drinking as much red wine as I could smuggle into the theater, and there is no better way to see this movie than while you are slightly drunk. After all, there's a reason why the casinos keep offering you free drinks and why you keep taking them: the whole experience goes down a lot smoother if you just accept that everything you see is shameless and fake and silly, and if you have to be a little out of your right mind to buy into that - well, then you should get out of your right mind or go home.