Review by Ged Murray.
A movie based on a successful video game franchise and directed by an ex-Stuntman wouldn’t normally warrant much attention. It’s the kind of thing that you might watch accidentally while hung-over or, if you’re 14, with a girl because you’re 14 and don’t understand girls. However two things make Need for Speed different.
The first is that it’s Aaron Paul’s first major appearance since Breaking Bad‘s finale. Being one of the leads in such a cultural phenomenon lends this, his next move, weight. The second is that, since the sad death of Paul Walker, Fast and Furious 7 will presumably be the last in that franchise. This leaves a big gap in the lucrative ‘daft action films about cars’ market. Does Need for Speed successfully fill that car shaped hole? In a word; No. In two words; absolutely no.
The story concerns Tobey Marshall (Paul) racing his nemesis. He just needs speed you see. He also needs money to drive the plot along. The race goes wrong and Tobey goes to jail. This isn’t before his nemesis frames him for manslaughter. He is, of course, innocent of this. His only crime was putting literally hundreds of commuters’ lives at risk for a bet. Probably some more crimes too actually but that’s not the point. He’s the good guy and the nemesis is a douche who wears black. On release, Tobey vows to avenge his fallen comrade and simultaneously clear his name. How? Racing. It’s kinda like someone jailed for selling heroin deciding to clear their name by selling mega heroin. Anyway, to achieve all this he must race across America to get to the really, really big race that’s in California. So if you don’t like car racing you’re going to have a bad time at this. Also, why are you reading this?
None of the above plot is actually something to count against it. Yes, it’s boiler plate stuff and yes, it’s silly, lad wish fulfilment. That’s all fine though. So why is it bad? First, it takes about 35 odd minutes for the opening scene to happen. By that I mean that by the time the main character has been screwed over we’ve been watching for quite a long time. The trailer set up the revenge story in a few seconds. The film pads its opening with a dull car chase and needless back-story. It’s like watching a half hour prologue.
The second big flaw is it’s hard to take Aaron Paul seriously as a strong, silent type. A lot of this, admittedly, is down to him being so linked with the character of Jesse Pinkman in our heads. A lot, too, is down to him just not being that guy.
The film has some fun, over the top set pieces but they’re few and far between. For every dramatic stunt there’s a lot of skidding, screeching nothing either side of it. They never quite match the spectacle of the Fast and Furious films. Eventually all those driving scenes blur into one. For a movie like this that’s a fatal flaw.
Is there anything good about it? There’s some enjoyably absurd stuff here and there. When the prettyboy supporting character volunteers for a dangerous race he may as well take out a picture of his sweetheart back home. So long, man.
Also, Tobey’s crew look like the Fast and Furious cast crossed with One Direction. It’s worth taking some time to acknowledge how ridiculous and cynical this inorganic group of friends is. There’s a token, funny black lad (played by Kid Cudi for some reason) and they all call each other ‘homie’ between sub beer ad banter.
The film almost turns into an OK road movie when Tobey is teamed up with Imogen Poots who’s playing ‘Hot British Chick’. I wonder how their relationship will pan out? A big hint is a scene where he cracks her tough exterior by skidding around with her in the passenger seat until she’s screaming ‘You’re amazing!’. She then leans out the door and guides a petrol pump into the tank while they’re still driving. Think Dr Strangelove crossed with copybook margin doodlings. The symbolism is so over the top it’s approaching something like a brilliant, Paul Verhoven style, piss take. In fairness to Poots, she’s actually pretty charming here and pairing her with Aaron Paul, doing his monosyllabic hero bit, was one of the movies few sound ideas.
One very weird standout performance comes from Michael Keaton. He’s the insane person staging the climactic race in California. Apparently this is a secret, invite only, street race staged by this wealthy lunatic so he can watch drivers from all over the world and, presumably, a lot of cops die for his amusement annually. Keaton has an absolute ball but even this performance gets real old, real quick.
You can probably tell I’m grasping to find positives here. It’s a shame, really. What could have been a fun action film becomes a trudge across the US of A. As to whether it will launch Aaron Paul into a post Breaking Bad movie career I’ll leave you with words of ‘wisdom’ from Michael Keaton’s one percenter psychopath. ‘If you wannna fly with the eagles you need bigger wings, son!’.*