Mark Reviews Movies

Need for Speed


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Scott Waugh

Cast: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Steve Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language)

Running Time: 2:10

Release Date: 3/14/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 13, 2014

Need for Speed is kind-of, sort-of an adaptation of a racing video game in that the credits state that the movie is based on the game and the movie has the same title. The question, of course, is how one could really adapt a video game that is built entirely around a driving simulator in which any semblance of a story is merely an excuse to get the player from one race to the next. The answer, doubly of course, is a movie that features the semblance of a story—and plenty of it—as a reason to get the characters from one chase to the next until it finally arrives at a climactic racing sequence. "Climactic," trebly of course, is a relative term, meant to imply that the sequence occurs at the climax of the plot and not that it is in any way exciting.

It's safe to assume that screenwriter George Gatins was also uncertain of the movie's potential for excitement. What other reason could there possibly be for including a character whose sole job in the story is to be thrilled by things happening in the movie? That character, by the way, is a podcaster and racing aficionado/sponsor played by Michael Keaton, who spends every scene sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. Even so, one hopes he received a hefty paycheck for the difficult task of feigning enthusiasm for a role with dialogue that exclusively establishes or re-establishes key plot points.

The story starts off with one cliché and then keeps them coming. Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) has taken over the family auto shop after his father's death, and the bank comes calling for a loan payment. Tobey has to raise money, but there's still plenty of time for him and his friends to take part in an illegal street race. The nighttime sequence is the first of many that don't take particular interest in either cinematic logistics or real-world logic.

The race doesn't make much sense for a few reasons. Director Scott Waugh oversees the sequence in that undermining way in which it's impossible to tell exactly where the characters—in this case, the cars—are in relation to each other or what they are doing in the first place. The course of the race, as a result, looks as if it is being determined on the fly by whichever car happens to be in the lead at any given moment, which removes any possibility for tension.

Then there's the complete lack of any through-traffic, save for one moment in which Tobey and his buddies laugh because Tobey destroys the shopping cart of a homeless man who has the misfortune of getting his way. The rationale, one supposes, is that their pal Benny (Scott Mescudi) is flying above them in his personal airplane, keeping tabs on any obstacles on whatever the course is. One may ask how someone is able to just fly a plane over an urban area without anyone catching on to this, and if a person is inclined to wonder at such things, that person will be even more confused when Benny takes his plane on a cross-country trek to follow Tobey from one coast to the other.

We're ahead of ourselves here, so the simple answer is that there is not a single cop in sight except when the movie requires one for a chase. Note the use of the word "one," because it's also important to note that the movie's races and chases only work if Tobey and his buddies don't have any resistance. Hence, if one were to take the movie's word for it, the combined forces of the various police departments across the United States total about 20 people. More than half of them show up at the final race.

There is a point to that race, but it requires more explaining than should be necessary (For a movie based on a video game series with little to no story, there is plenty of plot making up for it here). Tobey is wrongly convicted in the driving death of his clairvoyant friend (seriously) and decides to break parole to get revenge upon Dino (Dominic Cooper), the man responsible for the kid's death, by beating him at an ultra-exclusive race in California. At least Julia (the charming Imogen Poots) is along for the ride, which includes a trip dangling from a helicopter and a leap across a few lanes via a conveniently placed ramp covered in leaves.

It's silly, and that quality might have been forgiven with some acknowledgement of it or, at least, a willingness to push the material beyond implausibility and into the realm of the unbelievable. As it stands, Need for Speed is pretty lifeless.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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