Need For Speed Review 
Posted by Terry Lewis on 03.14.2014
Aaron Paul revs for the big screen with an adaptation of EA's Need For Speed racing video game franchise. Can the addition of a revenge story propel Paul and the super car chase series to new heights? Or does this spectacularly crash into the pile of previous video game movie failures? 411's Terry Lewis starts her up.
Aaron Paul - Tobey Marshall Dominic Cooper - Dino Brewster Imogen Poots - Julia Maddon Ramon Rodriguez - Joe Peck Scott Mescudi - Benny Rami Malek - Finn Harrison Gilbertson - Pete Dakota Johnson - Anita Michael Keaton - Monarch
Aaron Paul is diving headfirst in film roles finally as a leading man after the wrapping up of Breaking Bad, in a big screen adaptation of the Need For Speed videogame franchise. But stop me if you've heard this one before - an illegal street racer gathers together a team to track down his rival to avenge a loved one. No, it's not >Fast & The Furious 7 come early, although you could be forgiven the fact that it's a poor knock off.
Falling on hard times, New Yorker Tobey Marshall (Paul) and his crack team of expensive super car restorers take part in illegal street racing to pay the bills. Given a golden opportunity by local-kid-come-rich and super car dealer and Tobey's rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Tobey is challenged by Dino to a winner take all race with tragic consequences. Sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit, Tobey is out and goes on a cross-country journey to California with British super car dealer Julia (Imogen Poots, That Awkward Moment) to gain revenge from Dino.
I'll give Paul this - he's not afraid to give a role his everything. It's probably worth seeing this to see the start of a future leading man in Hollywood. The right emotional levels are hit right on cue and with this a revenge story, he's more than capable of what's required. He looks like a proper hero when needed, although, there's some points he's clearly been watching Batman too much. The script also is not his friend. There's a few points we have Tobey on this revenge mission where he's trying to avenge his friend and be all intense, yet he still manages to find time to exchange flirty quips with Julia in their will-they-won't-they relationship which sabotages an otherwise great performance.
Everyone else... well they are a mixed bag. I quite like Cooper but he's not given much to do in his valuable screentime apart from being a sleezy businessman. Poots is British and awful, only excelled in awfulness by Tobey's gang of colourful minority mechanics. They're as stereotyped as you can get with a sassy black man break dancing and wise cracking, along with the latino with a toothpick in his mouth. Then again, the wonderfully recognisable Remi Malek (The War At Home) pops his head round the door and is entertaining if random and a pleasant surprise in Michael Keaton (Robocop) turns up in a small but pleasing role.
At one point, a character called Monarch exclaims "this is more than about racing" and he's got a point. There is a fair amount of identity problems in Need For Speed. As well as this being a street racing film, there's a revenge plot, love story and road movie thrown in on top, as well as numerous clichés to deal with. The whole film turns into a bit of a narrative mess and that's before the extremely goofy Mad Max 2-esque scene where a bunch of modded jeeps & dune buggies, along with two American flag wearing concrete mixer trucks, chase Tobey's souped up Ford across a canyon. I guess they're trying to play up to the video game's craziness but it sticks out like a sore thumb in contrast to an otherwise straightly done film.
Actually scratch that - the fact that the plot requires our loved up duo to drive across America in 2 days to take part in a super race, which then only turns out to be on a coastal route, is batshit. The film keeps pulling things out of it's own ass to keep going, like Tobey being handed the same car that killed one of his friends, yet he doesn't bat an eyelid at it. Julia makes herself look stupid by being the girl that turns out knows a far bit about super cars than first thought, yet she still brings along her a massive bag of luggage and wears heels on an intense road trip. Tobey never really acknowledges that he's inadvertently at fault for causing his mate's death for agreeing to race Dino in the first goddamn place. There's so many problems half the fun of the film is picking on them and rolling with it.
In fairness, at least this film looks nice. Compared to other action films recently, everything is clearly shot so you can understand all the actions and movements being made. Not much of a positive but after seeing a lot of Paul Greengrass cribbing in Bourne Identity copiers I applaud this return. In fact, I want to give a standing ovation to Touchstone and Dreamworks going the extra costly mile to make most if not all of the driving sequences practical effects and keeping CGI to a minimum. The crash scenes look simply great and all the smashing of various vehicles into each other is captured well. Thumbs up to the cinematography of the actual driving sections, as they're not played cheesily as you'd think and not as over serious either.
For those wanting to know how this rates up against other video game movie adaptations, it's a little hard to base a judgement on for me. Not that I wake up and play the games of Need For Speed daily but I'm familiar enough to realise those were a video game based on street racing, the police chases and modding expensive supercars - which are all already tropes of car-based action movies. So to me, I'm looking at this as the film based on the video games based on the film genre. Needless to say, it feels pointless almost labelling it as a video game movie. Still, there's some nice touches with the driver eye view and front screen HUD pop-up, as well as the driver maps seen throughout. Not that there was ever an essential plot to be covered from a NFS game but the revenge/road trip plot actually pulls together in everything associated nicely, yet there's not really anything to drag itself away from the level of video game adaptations quality.
The elephant in the room though which sits on top of Need For Speed and squeezes it is the fact it's hard to drive around that it's VERY Fast & Furious orientated. Probably more geared towards the earlier instalments but it's so familiar to those it's a bit distracting. Okay, you've got a revenge plot but at the end of the day it's still street racing and super cars doing stunts and hand brake turns. In fact they milk the coolness of the actual driving of these super cars dry. There's too much of it almost, yet they throw in a super jump despite showing how the races are planned to the minute detail via eyes in the sky in planes and helicopters to aid drivers in getaways and chases.
The 411: Those eagerly awaiting to pop open the champagne for Aaron Paul's arrival as a Hollywood leading man may want to cork it and pop it back in the fridge after seeing Need For Speed. His star power is given fully but a poor script on top of a menu of problems dilutes an otherwise great performance. I hate to rag on it because it's just about worth a watch to fill a car-related action gap but sadly it stalls when it comes to producing it's own identity and this won't buck the trend of below average video game movies. Swerve to avoid.