LOS ANGELES: Hot cars, hot cast and red-hot box office figures — the juggernaut “Fast & Furious” franchise is revving up for another wild ride.
“Furious 7”, the latest installment in the blockbuster action series about a policeman who infiltrates and later becomes part of the world of street racing, hits theaters around the world from Wednesday.
The fast-paced film with a racially diverse cast that has won over audiences both at home and abroad is certain to rake in major cash, but it will also tug at the heartstrings of fans.
Star Paul Walker, who has played cop-turned-racer Brian O’Conner in the films, died in a fiery car crash in December 2013 at age 40 — a tragedy reminiscent of his character’s on-screen adventures.
To complete the film, which was originally set for release in summer 2014, the production team turned to his actor brothers Caleb and Cody, who resemble him.
Analysts say “Furious 7” will have a very big opening.
“Look for the record for biggest April debut to fall hard this weekend,” said Paul Dergarabedian, of the box office tracker Rentrak.
That top spot is currently held by last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” at $95 million, but Dergarabedian said “Furious 7” was likely to rake in more than $100 million.
Some have gone much farther, saying a US take of $155 million was not out of the question, and a global opening weekend total of $250 million — or, the film’s total budget.
Besides the obvious predictions of box office success, reviews so far have generally been good.
The film has so far earned an 87 percent approval rating on the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes — putting it ahead of some action films that went on to win Oscars.
Dergarabedian says the success stems from “an undeniably appealing concept and an impressive evolutionary path which has taken it well beyond its original concept as a ‘fast cars, hot girls and cool guys’ genre film.”
“These films pushed the boundaries of traditional action movie motifs and created a world unto itself that was mainly a product of the incredibly effective casting of the ensemble.”
Diverse cast boosts appeal
That ensemble is one of the most diverse ever put together. Entertainment Weekly calls it a “United Nations-like ‘family’ of scofflaw speed demons.”
The cast includes Latina actresses Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster; black actors Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges; Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is of Samoan descent; Korean-American Sung Kang; and Walker, who is white.
Also back for more is Vin Diesel, who himself has said he is of “ambiguous” ethnicity. On Wednesday, he was honored by putting his hands and feet in cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood
White Australian rapper Iggy Azalea even has a cameo in the flick.
And they are joined by veteran action film star Jason Statham, who plays a revenge-hungry British hitman.
The diverse cast has helped the franchise build a massive worldwide fan base.
“Diverse stories with diverse characters need to be told,” Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, Universal’s production co-president, told Entertainment Weekly.
“Not out of any sense of altruism, but because your audience is looking for stories they can connect to and access.”
For Dergarabedian, “the films took the action to a whole new level and with their international locales, and a diverse cast made them a truly global phenomenon.”
He also hailed the “increasingly over-the-top car chases” — at one point in “Furious 7”, five cars drive off a moving plane — and the “almost James Bond-esque commitment to international intrigue.”