In Need for Speed, the new movie based on the long-running video game series, the action is kicked off early when a famous driver returns to his small, upstate New York hometown seeking help from a former rival in rebuilding a car.
The car, designed by the legendary Carroll Shelby before his death, is a sleek and powerful Ford Mustang GT 500 special edition. It has a V8 engine and a copious amount of horsepower. The car goes from 0-60 in just a few seconds and has top speed of 230 mph.
With that in mind, Need for Speed, directed by Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), is a video-game rebuilt with Fast & Furious movie parts. It has a clichéd story for an engine and is powered by stock characters and weak dialogue. The film has a 30-minutes-too-long runtime of over 2 hours and 10 minutes.
With its overplayed sentimentality and generous helpings of explosions and slow-motion, the film plays a like Michael Bay movie, particularly Transformers (that is, if the cars did not turn into giant, intergalactic robots). The characters show very little to no regard for the danger and havoc they bestow upon towns, cities, and personal property as they tear through the streets in rapid succession. Cars are hit and people are nearly run over as the collateral damage mounts, but most are either ignored or laughed off. This begs the question: why we are supposed to care about these characters who clearly do not care about anything except their car and the next race?
So what about these cardboard cutout characters? Our hero is Tobey Marshall (played by a completely wasted Aaron Paul), a good kid who cannot seem to make it out of his small town despite his apparent vast car knowledge and racing talent. On the other side, the film’s over-the-top, one-note, almost cartoony bad guy, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), did make it out of town with a similar set of skills. He went on to fame, riches, and stealing Tobey’s girl (a nearly invisible Dakota Johnson). And now that he is back, the rivalry is renewed – and soon intensified after a string of typical-action-movie foreseeable events.
The rest of the cast is comprised of Tobey’s buddies/crew (though for most, their exact jobs/specialties are never really revealed). First, there is Julia (Imogen Poots), his new girl with an extensive knowledge of cars and a slight daredevil streak. Second is Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), a strong, silent type and de facto co-captain. Then there is the pilot, Benny (Kid Cudi), who provides most of the hit-and-miss comic relief. Next, is Finn (Rami Malek), the reluctant one who must be talked back into joining the team because they apparently need him (but for what is never mentioned). And finally, there is the young hanger-on Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), the purposeful-James Dean look-a-like, who you just know is not going to make through the film unscathed thanks to his naiveté and little brother status in the group (the cutesy nickname does not help).
Also in the mix is Michael Keaton as Monarch, a popular racing blogger and street race organizer, who provides some laughably obvious commentary on the action throughout the film. For the most part, Keaton is game and energetic, but his annotations and explanations are so unnecessary to a film, that by no means, needs explaining.
The film is neatly divided around three races: the introductory small-town street race, the Cannonball Run-like cross-country trek, and finally, the big showdown between Tobey and Dino (and four other random guys we know absolutely nothing about). This final race – with its Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, Bugatti Veyron, McLaren P1, Saleen S7, Koenigsegg Agera, and GTA Spano – is the one most reminiscent of the video games (at least the older ones, I used to play).
Ultimately, Need for Speed is just a tad bit too ridiculous (which could have been excusable, to a degree, with a more fun script). Some of the character motivations are borderline insanity and there are just far too many clichés like dents in the bumper. Sometimes the film takes its self too seriously, and at other times, not seriously enough. The race scenes are shot well and there are some exciting moments, but not nearly enough to redeem the movie overall.
And one last note, if anyone does want to see the movie, the 3-D is completely unnecessary. So, please, do not bother.
* * out of 5 stars
Need for Speed opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 14 and locally at Chalmette Movies, The Grand 14 at Esplanade, and all three AMC Palace theaters (Elmwood 20, Westbank 16, and Clearview 12).
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