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‘Need for Speed’ has fun car chases, but otherwise stalls

‘Need for Speed’ has fun car chases, but otherwise stalls

Need for Speed poster

Need for Speed

Written by George Gatins and John Gatins

Directed by Scott Waugh

USA, 2014

EA’s long-running Need for Speed series of car-racing games never seemed like a particularly easy franchise to adapt. While other video game movies at least have some logic behind them, an interesting visual hook, or unique scenario that could lend itself well to the blockbuster-movie mold, the Need for Speed series is less of an obvious choice, as high-octane car racing movies are nothing new to screens, especially now that The Fast and The Furious unleashes a new installment on a bi-yearly basis.

What, then, does Need for Speed, Disney’s adaptation of the series, have to offer that its competitors don’t? The answer, unfortunately, is very little, as Need for Speed does little to distinguish itself, offering entertaining car chases and stunts and nothing more.

Aaron Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, a street racer framed for murder by Dino Brewster, Dominic Cooper’s rich racer villain. Rather than prove his innocence or reveal Brewster’s villainy, Tobey’s plan is to beat Brewster in an underground street race hosted by Michael Keaton’s Monarch, a retired racer who sadly does not live in a giant flying cocoon staffed by comical henchmen. With the police and Brewster’s bounty hunters in pursuit, Tobey must race across the country to the starting line.

Structually, Need for Speed could use some work. The first 30 minutes or so are spent deciding on a plot, dithering indecisively like an unsure buyer on a showroom floor. Will it be the “Save Dad’s garage” plot? Perhaps the “Blue-collar racer finds success and loses perspective” gambit? By the time the “revenge” plot is finally chosen, the film has to re-introduce us to most of the cast. If told in a different way, perhaps beginning with Tobey’s release from prison with the backstory fed to us periodically via flashback, this story could have worked fairly well. As is, the script feels awkward and poorly paced.

Need for Speed pic1

Where things rev up a bit is in the driving scenes, which are often surprisingly enjoyable and interestingly filmed, even throwing in the odd POV shot. Look at you, Need for Speed, getting all Lady in the Lake. Each chase scene has at least one or two interesting elements to it, be it an impressive stunt or some creative camerawork. There’s also surprisingly little slow-motion, which make the scenes feel kinetic and appropriately fast-paced. It’s during these sequences that Need for Speed works best, rarely letting the audience get bored and showing at least a little creativity.

Need for Speed pic2Of course, these scenes never last forever, and in between high-octane chases, Need for Speed is a mess of logical inconsistencies and bland characters. Paul, despite being the fine actor we all know him to be from his time on Breaking Bad, is a generic hero figure here, stoic and squinty with nothing interesting to offer as a character. His entourage are a crew of Disney Channel-esque attractive people, all vying for the “comical goofball” role in the group like furious bidders at an auction house. It feels like an absurd game of one-upsmanship, with each one trying to out-goofball the other, and sadly the game doesn’t end when one of them strips naked, the Hail Mary pass of any desperate comedian.

Co-stars Imogen Poots, Cooper, and Keaton add little else, offering generic love interest and villain roles, though at least Keaton seems to enjoy his rabid scenery-chewing as Monarch.

When Need for Speed has its eyes on the road and is just trying to be an entertaining car chase movie, there are worse things to watch. It’s the connective tissue between the racing scenes that needs work, mostly in the form of a script overhaul and a new supporting cast.

— Thomas O’Connor