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'Need for Speed' Movie Review

Aaron Paul plays street racer Tobey Marshall.
Aaron Paul plays street racer Tobey Marshall.
Touchstone Pictures

Need for Speed

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Based on the bestselling video game, the film adaptation of ‘Need for Speed’ is quite simply enjoyable escapism. This street racing adventure is a throwback to car chase movies such as Bullitt, Vanishing Point, and even Smokey & the Bandit. Despite the over-plotted screenplay, the impressive stunt-driving sequences fire on all cylinders. Director Scott Waugh wanted to pay homage to his late father Fred who was a stunt coordinator in several action movies. The use of actual cars flipping, careening and exploding without any CGI is impressive and gives ‘Need for Speed’ a gritty authentic feel. This film has it all - fast cars, stunning panoramas and the quirky Imogen Poots.

Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper
Touchstone Pictures

The real question on everyone’s mind is whether there is life after ‘Breaking Bad’ for Aaron Paul? The answer is a resounding yes. He holds his own as a leading man. Paul is likable with a brooding demeanor. He brings just the right balance of vulnerability to the role. Even if this doesn’t work out as a franchise for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, the two-time Emmy winner has already proven he has acting chops. He won critical acclaim for the Sundance hit ‘Smashed’ in 2012 and his latest indie film ‘Hellion’ garnered raves at this year’s festival in Park City. Another reason to admire Paul in ‘Need for Speed’ is that he does his own stunt-driving in the film and underwent intensive training for the part.

Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a street car racer who could have gone pro but stays behind in his home town of Mount Kisco, New York to run the family’s auto shop he inherits from his late father. A rival turned successful racer, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes back to town and offers Tobey a large sum of money to rebuild an original Shelby Mustang. With his garage in debt to the bank, Tobey has little choice but to take Dino on his offer. To add insult to injury, Dino shows up at the local drive-in theater with Tobey’s ex-girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson). You’ll be hearing more about Johnson soon in the highly-anticipated erotic romance, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ She is the daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. There is no doubt about it, Johnson proves she has sex appeal in this movie.

In a wild three-way street race, Dino is responsible for the fatal car crash involving Tobey’s buddy Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson). Dino leaves the scene of the accident and Tobey is wrongly charged with manslaughter where he is sent to prison. Fast forward two years later, Tobey gets out of the slammer, vows vengeance when he gets the chance to compete in the De Leon, an underground car race held in Northern California in hopes of defeating Dino. One of the highlights of the film is Imogen Poots playing the cheeky British auto broker who loans him the souped-up Mustang that his garage mates (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodgriguez) help reconstruct earlier in the story. She rides shotgun. The chemistry between the two is fun to watch. Later this year, Paul and Poots will be in another film together, ‘A Long Way Down’ based on the bestselling book by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy).

'Need for Speed' isn’t without its flaws. The pacing is a bit off when it tries to take itself too seriously as a thriller. It hits its mark with lighthearted humor from the cast. Some may compare it to ‘Fast & Furious’ with its fast cars and loyal band of brothers but the gritty car stunts set it apart from its competitor. Michael Keaton plays Monarch, the eccentric organizer of the underground race. It’s nice to see Keaton back with this offbeat character spouting some of the best lines in the movie, “"I can feel love, vengeance, motor oil all swirling together” and “Racers should race, cops should eat donuts.” Warning - don’t try these stunts at home, kids. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/e73J71RZRn8