In the final scene of the series finale of "Breaking Bad", actor Aaron Paul is behind the wheel of a car, racing away from disaster. His character, Jesse, is shouting hysterically, and he most certainly should be. It was a scene poised to mark his demise, but somehow the wayward young man found a way out of the destruction that consumed almost everyone else. It is somewhat appropriate, then, that the star returns to the spotlight as a throttle-revving grease monkey in "Need for Speed," The souped-up cinematic version of the long-running video game enlists some A-list talent for what promises to be a treat for adrenalin junkies, gamers and fans of the live action scenes rather than CGI.
Big Names and High Hopes
Aaron Paul is a newcomer to the A-list party, but there are plenty of other big names driving this potential blockbuster. The project was overseen by Steven Spielberg, backed by DreamWorks pictures and distributed by Disney. A supporting role by Michael Keaton also lends credibility, as he plays a former race car driver turned maverick radio show host offering a grizzled version of the play-by-play. Aaron Paul's believably edgy persona may be just what fans are looking for in an actor making the jump from dramatic standout to action hero. This effort could launch another franchise but it is too early to tell. The stunt car has left the ramp, but right now, it is still in the air. So far, Rotten Tomatoes is calling it "an enticing return to the great car-culture films of the 1960s and 70s," but it has only given it a rating of 23 percent so far.
A Director with a Vision
"Need for Speed" enlists a veteran stuntman turned newbie director to steer the machine. Scott Waugh is well-known for his behind-the-scenes work in Hollywood. He made the directorial leap with the film "Act of Valor" in 2012 and then jumped straight into this project. His expertise promises to deliver thrills on the car chases and crashes end of things, but whether or not it transfers to his directorial touch remains to be seen. If his vision of the big picture is any indication, audiences could be in for a real treat. Waugh has foregone CGI, choosing instead to ground the film in as much reality as possible. Every jump, every race, every crash and every burn was authentically manufactured, lending irony to the fact that it is a movie inspired by a video game. Waugh's reasoning hinges on the fact that the video game tie-in supplies the fun, and it was his job to bring the realism of the human element of the story driven by characters, dialog, revenge, redemption and love. This approach promises to fulfill the thrill quota required by video game fans, and it just might surprise audiences who go to the movies because they like to get swept away in a good story.
A Modern Twist on a Simpler Time
"Need for Speed" video game publisher Electronic Arts originally developed the screenplay and even stayed on as a partner once it was bought by DreamWorks. From there, George Gatkins rewrote the screenplay and fleshed out the story. Then it was up to director Scott Waugh and stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert to interpret everything through their chosen medium: authenticity and realism. Waugh has gone on record explaining that he spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the greatest car movies of all time were made 40 and 50 years ago. He nods to "Bullitt," "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Vanishing Point" as being among the greatest. He and Gilbert determined that it is because those movies were real, the stunts were real and the actors were the ones driving the cars. They set out to capture the visceral tension of having real people within action sets and the primal aesthetic of roaring engines, screeching tires and crashing metal. The result is a feature-length effort of non-stop automotive mayhem, which at the very least does due diligence in honoring the title of the film.
Steven Zeitchick of the Los Angeles Times wonders why "Need for Speed" had to dip into "dourness" with "an awful lot of downbeat moments about redemption, justice and grief." Other voices are seeing it as the fasten your seatbelts piece of cinema it was intended to be. Luke Hopewell of Kotaku.com seems to sum it up fairly when he calls "Need for Speed" "one of the best bad movies you'll ever see."