When there’s a race or car chase happening in Need for Speed, the latest in a long line of video game franchises getting the big-screen treatment, few things can stop it. But the ride gets bumpy when the action stops or anyone speaks.
Directed by Scott Waugh with a script by George Gatins, Need for Speed thrives on its stunts, which is no surprise given the director’s background: Waugh has more than 40 stunt credits including stunt-heavy films like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Torque, Spider-Man and The Scorpion King. Kudos to stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert: two scenes in particular in Need for Speed were equal parts thrilling, unbelievable and ridiculous (the refuelling and chopper bits – you’ll know them when you see them) , and if the rest of the movie adhered to that philosophy, I might get excited about the prospect of Need for Speed becoming the next big action-movie franchise. All of the race and chase scenes are CGI-free, which is commendable, or at least more impressive than that other racing-movie franchise that uses CGI liberally.
Most egregious are the plot and dialogue in Need for Speed. When Tobey Marshall’s (Aaron Paul) friend is killed in a fiery car crash after his arch rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) rear ends him and flees the scene during a street race, Marshall is sent to jail for two years for manslaughter. When he gets out, he’s bent on vengeance: he’ll get Brewster back by beating him in the exclusive DeLeon race hosted by the mysterious Monarch (Michael Keaton). You can tell Brewster is the bad guy and fancier than everyman Marshall because he’s clean-shaven, well coiffed and wears black turtlenecks. He’s rich, too, having made a name for himself on the professional racing circuit, but Marshall’s friends assure Marshall that Marshall is the better driver.
The race rakes place in California in 45 hours and he’s in New York (and on parole). Commence cross-country trip! He’s joined by the charming Imogen Poots, who plays Julia, whose boss provides Marshall a race car. We first meet Julia at a car show when Marshall and his buddies are showing off their latest creation, a rebuilt old Mustang that Caroll Shelby was working on and didn’t complete before his death. It’s got bells, whistles and 900 horsepower. “Is that fast?” she asks. They mock her before she turns back and fires off a bunch of car lingo. They’re stunned and she wiseassedly asks if they thought she didn’t know because she’s a girl. Huh? You asked if a 900-horsepower car was fast. His friends, who only add to the story that Marshall has friends who think he’s a racing god, also tag along and we check in with them sporadically (Scott Mescudi, a.k.a. Kid Cudi, throws lines like “Word?” and “You better tell somebody!” and asks to be called Maverick because he flies a Cessna.)
In his first role since the end of Breaking Bad, the AMC series that won the actor two Emmys, Paul’s character isn’t nearly as magnetic as Jesse Pinkman, even if he has his shit together. He gets to ugly-cry, though, when he witnesses his friend’s car crash that is the basis for the film’s thin revenge plot, and Paul is an ace at those (Exhibits A, B and C). Paul’s best known for his work on TV but I think with some better choices he can have a respectable film career, too.
There’s nothing that happens in Need for Speed that you can’t see coming from miles away and at 130 minutes, it’s just too long. You end up waiting for car-chase scenes and wishing there were more of those – or that the film was just those.
Need for Speed opens in theatres March 14.