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Review: Need for Speed – The fast and the ridiculous

Posted by on March 14, 2014 – 7:48 am

Need for SpeedOur old friend and “wingman”, Goose, is most likely rolling in his grave over Need for Speed, a very bad new movie based the popular racing video game series that swiped its title from the famous line in the film Top Gun. But that footnote in pop culture’s “circle of life” is probably the most amusing aspect of this fleety fiasco.

I feel bad for actor Aaron Paul, who chose this film to make his leading man debut after his Emmy Award winning work on Breaking Bad. Paul as a person seems to be a likeable sort, and I grew to love him as the meth addict/cook, Jesse Pinkman, on BB, but his acting abilities are miles above the sad material he has to work with in Need for Speed.

One can’t expect too much from a movie in which its source material is a video game with racing cars, and especially one that doesn’t even have a built-in  narrative (like Grand Theft Auto, for instance), but the sordid plot of Need for Speed makes Super Mario Bros. (1993) look like On the Waterfront.

I’m not going to pretend like I know all of the ins and outs of the Need for Speed video game series (which appears to up to over twenty installments since its debut in 1994), but I have played the game a few times (until I got tired of wrecking into things); and I also don’t know (or care to know) a Lamborghini from a Koenigsegg or any of the other cars featured in this movie. So if you are a fan of the games or the cars (or both), then you are likely to have a better time at this film than I did, and more power to you.

Need for SpeedThe story begins with “the bank” planning to foreclose on Tobey Marshall’s (Aaron Paul) garage, which he inherited (along with the bills) after his Dad’s death. Tobey and his team, which consists of Benny the pilot (Scott Mescudi  - AKA the rapper, Kid Cudi), the mechanics Finn (Rami Malek) and Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), and kid driver “Little Pete” (Harrison Gilbertson), scrounge up street race winnings in order to keep the business’ doors open.

Nasty racer/racecar dealer, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper, who you might recognize as Howard Stark from the Captain America film), offers Tobey the chance to make a quarter of million dollars if his crew restores a rare Carroll Shelby Ford GT500, but the catch is they have to work with the shady slime-ball.

After they finish the project and sell the GT500 to the sultry – yet car knowledgeable – Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) and her client, Dino talks Tobey and Pete into a race, with the winner taking all the profits from the Shelby car sale. But just as Tobey is about to cross the finish line, Dino runs Pete off the road, killing him in a fiery crash and distracting Tobey so that the devious Dino can win the contest.

Tobey gets blamed for Pete’s death and does two years in prison for…I’m not sure…racing, I guess. But when he gets out he immediately contacts the guy who bought the GT500 and talks him into loaning out the car so he can beat Dino in an upcoming super-secret race called, “The DeLeon.” The owner of the Shelby car goes along with the plan, but on the condition that his girl Julia gets to ride shotgun, of course.

Need for SpeedSo the race is on, as it were, to get to the unknown location of the DeLeon and to get the attention of the race’s sponsor, the “Monarch” (played by the once great Michael Keaton), who apparently monitors the world of racing from some hidden radio station where he broadcasts his wisdom to those in the racing world underground. And this is where Need really gets silly, but not in a good way.

As directed by stuntman, Scott Waugh, Need for Speed does a pretty good job of portraying the look and feel of the game’s racing action and its scenic tracks, complete with police pursuits; and there are even nods to other car-centric films like Bullitt and American Graffiti, but it’s the in-between stuff that is eye-rolling ridiculous. Like a sequence where Finn quits his office job and strips naked while walking on his way out of the building; or Monarch’s crazy ravings and musings (that did nothing but make me embarrassed for Keaton.)

This film would have been better served by either going full-on crazy or dead-serious, but it’s a hodge-podge of inane moments mixed with serious emotion and then some fast cars. Clocking in at 130-minutes, Need for Speed also needed to be about 45-minutes shorter. Both Paul and Keaton are very good actors, and I hope they’re given an opportunity to make better films in the future, but they should have passed on this one. Grade: 3/10

Photos © 2014 DreamWorks