Need For Speed Review

Bland characters and a generic story means that Need For Speed has all the depth of a racing game.

rating: 1.5

The Need For Speed video game series has been around for almost 20 years now and has since sold over 140 million copies worldwide. It's pretty obvious why people love playing these games: you get to drive expensive cars at ridiculously high speeds. The game is a pure adrenaline rush for teens and young adults alike. Because the game's premise is so simple, however, constructing a feature-length film based on Need For Speed presents a bit of a challenge. Sure, it's fun to play the game by yourself or with friends, but how do you get people to care about fictional characters, whose lives revolve entirely around illegal street races, without copying the Fast and Furious movies? How do you capture the pure thrill and excitement that the game experience has to offer? Unfortunately, director Scott Waugh and screenwriter George Gatins don't offer up anything substantial in either department. Need For Speed, the movie, takes a worn-out plot filled with one-dimensional characters and combines it with a couple of overlong car chase sequences that are completely devoid of intensity. This is Scott Waugh's second movie for 25 years; Waugh made a living in Hollywood as a stunt performer. One would think that a former stuntman would be the ideal choice to direct a Need For Speed movie, but while there are some wild stunts captured on screen, Waugh lacks the directorial chops necessary to help you feel like you're in on the action, too. This makes for a very empty, impersonal film. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall, who owns a garage in upstate New York and makes cash on the side by taking part in illegal street races. He inherited the garage from his recently-deceased father and has been struggling to keep it from falling apart. That's where Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes in. He offers Tobey and his crew $250,000 to finish work on a Ford Mustang that was originally designed by the legendary Carroll Shelby. Tobey, who has a sour history with Dino, reluctantly takes the offer despite the protest of his friends.
Marshall and his friends succeed in fixing the car and when it's later presented at a showcase, the work impresses a sexy English car dealer (Imogen Poots), who offers to buy the car for close to $3 million. In spite of this, for no reason other than that he's the villain of the movie, Dino Brewster refuses to pay Tobey his $250,000 unless he beats him in another illegal street race. And, for the sole purpose of adding another car chase in the film, Tobey goes through with it. Throughout the film's 130-minute running time, Tobey makes so many idiotic decisions that wind up getting him screwed over, and we are never given a reason to care about him. If he was portrayed as a flawed anti-hero and the movie actually gave him a personality, he would be a much more interesting character. Instead, the movie insists that we blindly support him regardless of all the stupid things that he does. Why should we support him? Because he drives fast, man! Need For Speed is ultimately a story about Tobey's revenge, but it's a story that's been done to death so many times, and the filmmakers make no attempt to give us a fresh take on the material. Now, none of this would matter if Need For Speed brought the goods. If we had some awesomely intense car racing scenes with wild stunts and explosions, the flaws would be much more forgivable. However, while some of the stunts are indeed wild, the car racing scenes simply have no energy. There are way too many distractions throughout these racing scenes, and it takes away from the action at hand. Too often, Scott Waugh cuts back-and-forth between the race itself and the insignificant characters who follow the race, which prevent the scenes from building any momentum.
The entire film centers around expensive cars going really fast, but nothing is done to make the sequences exciting. There's no pure adrenaline rush here. While a hackneyed script filled with one-dimensional characters definitely hurts, if you can't even get the car chase sequences right, then what's the point of making the movie? And to call these characters one-dimensional is to put it nicely; these guys are mere archetypes. You have the humourless protagonist who is hell-bent on revenge; the deceitful, manipulative bad guy who only exists to make everyone miserable; the quirky girl who surprises the male characters because she has a brain (she knows a lot about cars). And there's the overly-excited naive character who just wants to race with the big boys, in a part that seems to be written for a 12-year-old boy yet is played by an actor in his 20s. There are no attempts to do anything fun with these people. They are each given a basic function so that the plot can move forward, but they do not exist beyond that. One unintentionally hilarious example? Throughout the movie, the writers keep giving Tobey reasons to drive like a complete maniac. At one point in the story, he discovers that an underground winner-takes-all race is happening in San Francisco in just 48 hours. He needs to get there as soon as possible, so what does he do? He speeds dangerously across the entire continent. If you have ever been inside a car, you know just how ridiculous it looks to watch someone else zip down a highway, weaving through traffic like they own the road. Tobey does this across an entire country and almost gets people killed in the process. Not only is he single-mindedly dull, he's a jerk, too .
The cast do their best with what they are given. I don't blame Aaron Paul or Dominic Cooper for the performances they give here. No one in the movie looks particularly great, except for Michael Keaton, who plays a radio DJ who puts together the winner-takes-all race at the end. Keaton does all of his scenes in a location isolated from everyone else, and he essentially talks to himself the entire time. Because Keaton is such a fun, colorful actor, it often feels like he's in the wrong movie. He brings a great amount of energy to his role, but it doesn't carry over to the rest of the cast. All said and done, you're probably better off with the video game.
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Ken writes movie reviews on his blog, He currently resides in New York City. Twitter: @keng324