Movie Review: Need for Speed (2014)

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I love Aaron Paul, but I’m fairly certain I prefer him as a meth cook than a racing car driver.

Need for Speed (not the drug, of course, as Aaron Paul prefers blue meth), based on one of the most successful video game franchises of all-time, tells the story of Toby Marshall (Paul), a former professional racer who turns to tuning performance cars to make a living. Tragedy strikes, as it usually does, and Toby is made to suffer for it, but soon after he’s plotting his revenge. And that revenge somehow entails driving in a racing car across the country with an attractive British lass (Imogen Poots) while lots of people try to kill him.

Video game adaptations that aren’t utter crap are hard to come by these days, and I guess you could make an argument that Need for Speed is not utter crap. It’s certainly not great, and not even particularly good, but it’s passable entertainment. And its box office success (US$186 million on a US$66 million budget) means there could be more entries. That said, the status of Fast & Furious as the definitive Hollywood car racing franchise remains safe.

The most positive thing I can say about the film is that its driving sequences are done pretty well. I personally don’t care much about cars but even I have to admit that the vehicles look very pretty, and they look even prettier driving at 200+ miles per hour while weaving through traffic, escaping gunfire and evading the police. I didn’t see the film in IMAX or 3D, but I can imagine it being quite a visual feast (the IMAX at least, not so sure about the 3D).

Everything else is where I struggle to come up with positive things to say. The plot, of course, is preposterous. You know that just from the short description I gave above. None of it really makes any sense, and if you think about it too hard your brain might explode. Revenge through racing in an underground competition? — I still can’t get my head around it. The motivations of the characters and their reactions are all over the place, and it’s best if you try and treat it like a video game for the sake of your sanity.

Unlike the Fast & Furious franchise, the characters are bland. Even with an actor the calibre of Aaron Paul, the lead character of Toby Marshall is weak. There’s just nothing about him. The same can be said for everyone else, from Imogen Poots’s obvious love interest to the boring and one-dimensional villain played by Dominic Cooper. As for the radio DJ played by Michael Keaton, who spends the entire film commentating, I don’t even know what to say. It weirded me out, to be honest.

And that’s where the film falls apart — it’s inability to connect with audiences with anything other than action scenes. It sure tries, with plenty of attempts at “emotion” and a hefty running time of 130 minutes, which is just ridiculous, though ultimately there is nothing memorable about it. The really pathetic attempts at humour, even of the cheesy kind, also bothered me, though I was pleasantly surprised that they did not try to sexualise the movie with a lot of scantily-clad ladies or obligatory sex scenes, which I thought were a given in flicks about cool cars. On the other hand, there was no shortage of cringeworthy “whoa”, “yeah”, “cool”, “awesome” moments which I’m sure the younger (and dumber) generations will love.

Overall, more or less what I expected. Nice car racing scenes and a dash of Aaron Paul intensity, but that’s about all that’s got going for it.

2.5 stars out of 5

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