Directed by: Scott Waugh
Premise: A street racer (Aaron Paul) sets out to get revenge on the rival driver (Dominic Cooper) who framed him for vehicular manslaughter. The racer and his crew must travel across the United States to participate in a secret street race and defeat his rival.
What Works: Need for Speed is based on a video game but stylistically the movie is much more reminiscent of the recent (and better) installments of The Fast and the Furious series. Although the film is about competitive drivers, the story is less about racing and more about justice, as the hero attempts to clear his name and implicate the guilty. Need for Speed may not be especially distinguished but the cinematography of Shane Hurlbut does a lot to elevate the picture. The landscapes in particular are beautifully photographed, especially the deserts and rock formations of the west. There is an entire subgenre of racing movies and typically these films are either sports pictures like Rush or they are caper movies like Drive. Need for Speed is a little bit different. Although the filmmakers adhere to some of the familiar genre guidelines, the story is a little more complex and it puts more at stake than the average racing picture. The goal of the ex-con, played by Aaron Paul, evolves over the course of the film and he is consistently faced with character-defining choices. Need for Speed also includes a fair amount of humor. The picture has some sequences that are random, off-beat, or just weird but the peculiarities juice the movie and break up what is otherwise a pretty standard story. Among the colorful interjections is a supporting performance by Michael Keaton as an elusive car guru who runs an annual underground race. Keaton brings a level of energy to his performance that hasn’t been seen since Beetlejuice.
What Doesn’t: The main allure of a racing movie is the car chases and therein lies the main fault of Need for Speed. There is no kinetic thrill to the picture. This movie isn’t very exciting and the race sequences are not staged very interestingly. The action is random and disjointed with the hero deliberately getting himself into situations in which he has to evade the police. The movie does come up with an explanation for that but other scenes are similarly stupid, such as a sequence in which the hero refuels the car without stopping. The question “Why?” hangs over all of these sequences and their unnecessariness is painfully obvious. Silliest of all is a recurring gag in which one of the hero’s crew members repeatedly shows up piloting various aircraft such as a small airplane and later a helicopter. The many logical problems with these sequences should be obvious to anyone, even viewers who know nothing about aviation. Worse, the filmmakers repeatedly use the aircraft gag as a narrative copout, using it to get the hero out of the situations that the screenwriters are unable to resolve. Unrealistic set pieces are typical for the action genre but better films of this type are able to get the audience to accept them by integrating the stunts into the tone of the movie and trumping logic with spectacle. The filmmakers of Need for Speed never accomplish that. Parts of this movie are tethered closely to reality but other scenes loosen that bridle and don’t match the style and tone of the rest of the picture. Need for Speed co-stars Imogen Poots as an upper class car buyer but Poots is miscast in the role. The filmmakers attempt to cast her against type, making her a feminine character with traditionally masculine interests but it’s never believable. She is intended to have a romantic relationship with the lead but Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul don’t have very much on-screen chemistry and the movie does not give them decisive moments to grow on each other.
Bottom Line: Need for Speed has bits that are exciting and unusual but on the whole the movie is unexceptional. For what it is, the picture isn’t necessarily bad. In some ways it is better than the average car flick but it lacks the energy and the muscle that fans of this kind of movie are probably looking for.
Episode: #483 (March 23, 2014)