Film Review – Need For Speed
Need For Speed
We’re only a quarter of the way through 2014, but we’ve found a candidate for Goofiest Movie of the Year. Need For Speed (2014) continues the trend of video games turned into films. The trend hasn’t been a good one. No consideration is taken for the characters in the story or for the people in the theater watching it. The world depicted has no resemblance to the one you and I live in – it might as well have come from The Twilight Zone. I remember playing this game as a kid, and having a lot of fun driving fast cars and escaping police through endless miles of road. Watching this felt like someone grabbing the controller from my hands and taking over, ruining the game.
If there is something this does a good job of, it shows how far the Fast and Furious franchise has come. The latest entries of that really blossomed into their own – knowing exactly the right tone and going for it all the way. The issue with Need For Speed is that it tries too hard to be different things. Is it an intense revenge story? A romance? A road trip comedy? This is a lot to throw into the pot, and director Scott Waugh (with screenwriter George Gatins) has a difficult time juggling all the different pieces, never striking the right balance.
For example, we never get to see Aaron Paul’s talents used to full effect. Paul is a strong and capable actor (as proven by his role in Breaking Bad) but the lack of developed writing never allows him to utilize his expressiveness. He comes off as too self-serious, as though he needs someone to hug him and tell him to lighten up. Paul plays Tobey Marshall, an auto mechanic and street racer. We learn early on that Tobey is the son of a famous racer whose recent passing still lingers with him (this is forgotten about as the plot moves on). With his garage in financial straits, Tobey and his friends accept an offer from ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) to help rebuild one of his cars.
Dino’s car is sold to the boss of Julia (Imogen Poots). Julia is one of those hotshot female characters who are supposedly written to be “one of the guys,” but when the going gets tough, she reverts into the helpless damsel in distress. Before the transaction is made, Tobey and Dino get into a clash of egos, trying to see who’s the better driver (this machismo is insufferable and happens throughout the film). They decide to take it out on the road, and their recklessness leads right to terrible results, with Tobey losing everything and Dino driving away scot-free.
All this is just a set up for the main plot thread. Years later, Tobey returns and decides to exact his revenge on Dino. How does he do this? By jumping into a car, driving from New York to San Francisco, entering the underground race known as the “Deleon,” and beating Dino in it. How exactly does winning this race lift years of torment and anger off Tobey’s shoulders? Your guess is as good as mine. Luckily for Tobey, Julia somehow finds herself his passenger on the trip. Gotta love those relationships made between couples going 150 mph on open public freeways.
To call this preposterous would be putting it mildly. Nearly every action disregards believability. All the characters – good or bad – drive so wildly, with no thought about the danger they are putting themselves and others in. The only lives Tobey and his friends care about are their own; innocent bystanders are shrugged off with little remorse. Police cruisers are simple nuisances to them, nothing a crazy car stunt can’t handle. Tobey creates such chaos on his way to California we wonder how the hell he can make it there with his car intact. One scene, involving refueling without stopping, comes off as near laughable, but not in a good way.
Dominic Cooper grimaces intensely as Dino, a man so evil he borders on psychopathic. Tobey’s friend Benny (Scott Mescudi) has the convenient role of the lookout, with a surprising amount of access to any aircraft (civilian or military) he so desires. And good old Michael Keaton shows up as Monarch, the mysterious Internet personality who runs the Deleon. Of everyone involved, Keaton seems to know what kind of film he’s in, as he gestures with exaggeration, and dives into random speeches like some eccentric car philosopher.
Need For Speed is about as logical as a 25-hour day, and that doesn’t even make sense. Not much does here. The car stunts have an authenticity about them, but they quickly grow tiresome. The stakes don’t have any tangible urgency; I didn’t care enough about these characters or what happened to them. Even if this was simply meant to be a high-end car commercial, it didn’t do much to make me want to buy their product.