Fast and Furious 7 makes pulses race

The freewheeling Fast & Furiousfranchise is at the top of its game with its latest far-fetched go-round.

Furious 7 offers edge-of-the-seat excitement with outlandish action sequences, inventive stunts, hilarious cartoonish moments and even some touching emotion (* * * out of four; rated PG-13; opens Thursday in select theaters and Friday nationwide).

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Universal Pictures via AP

Paul Walker, who died in a 2013 car accident, stars in ‘Furious 7,’ the latest entry in the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise.

Sure, there are plenty of eye-rolling moments: Vin Diesel’s acting skills consist mostly of glowering. The movie can be deafening with amplified sounds of cars revving. Its wide-ranging, gravity-defying plot rarely makes sense. And yet, what it offers in spades is pure, adrenaline-infused fun.

Director James Wan (The Conjuring) and the returning cast wink at the audience with self-mocking one-liners, delving deeper than ever into fantasy with jaw-dropping car stunts.

On the gentler side, the movie offers a lovely, lump-in-the-throat tribute to the affable Paul Walker, killed in a car accident in November 2013.

Lines of dialogue and plot points can be painful reminders of Walker’s death at age 40. As Brian O’Conner, he talks about yet another funeral, and his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) urges him not to say goodbye, as if he will never see her again. These scenes simultaneously take the viewer out of the movie, make it even more poignant and underscore life’s fragility.

Known mostly for his horror films, Wan is new to the franchise and acquits himself well. It helps, of course, that the cast is back and that screenwriter Chris Morgan, responsible for the last four films, is also on board. Much of the dialogue by Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and FBI agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) consists of classic Furious one-liners.

Holed up for days in a hospital ICU (though he hardly seems in critical condition), Hobbs flexes his considerable muscles and tells his young daughter, “Daddy’s got to go to work.”

When Walker died, the film was only half completed. But filmmakers have digitally fused Walker’s face onto stand-ins (including Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody) and artfully incorporated footage from previous films.

It’s bittersweet to see the handsome blue-eyed actor (particularly looking so young in flashback footage) as he gives his all here. Scenes of Walker smiling and looking carefree in the final scenes offer a tasteful, subtle memorial.

It’s not worth spending much time on the not-so-subtle plot. Bad guy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is after the car-racing protagonists. His menacing scowl puts Diesel’s one-note glare to shame. He’s seeking revenge for an attack on his brother (Luke Evans), from the previous movie. Also involved in the mayhem is a vaguely-affiliated terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) and a computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel).

The takeaway here is cars flying, skimming through the air as if winged.

Several are released from a cargo plane over the Caucasus Mountains — with the drivers buckled inside — in free-fall until their parachutes open. In Abu Dhabi, a pricey sports car goes airborne, gracefully flying among three shiny skyscraper towers.

Furious is not just about souped-up cars, however. It’s also about camaraderie and loyalty. Though it never makes it a focal point, the franchise’s ethnically diverse cast — which includes Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges — is a wonderful example for Hollywood of how most films should look.

The credits offer a funny disclaimer urging audiences not to try the dangerous vehicular stunts at home.

“All stunts were performed in controlled environments with professionally trained stunt crews on closed roads. No attempts should be made to duplicate any action, driving or car-play scenes herein portrayed.”

As if.