Director: Scott Waugh
Cast: Aaron Paul, Imogen Potts, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek and Michael Keaton
Plot: Tobey Marshall’s (Paul) garage is struggling to pay its loans, forcing Marshall to take a job from an untrustworthy old rival, a move that has unexpected and disastrous consequences.
Need for Speed falls under a long line of films ruined by its trailer. The trailer painted this idea of Need for Speed being a serious racing film, stripping away the camp side of the Fast and Furious series and giving us a gritty anti-hero, corrupted by tragedy. While Need for Speed does have certain elements that suggests a more grounded underground racing movie, it doesn’t entirely escape the sense of nonsense that plagues this genre. On the other hand, I also benefited from being a little late to this party, reading some poor reviews from my fellow bloggers. This meant that I found Need for Speed more enjoyable than I thought I would.
I think Need for Speed suffers from a messy conception and a plot that needs serious decluttering. The story jumps all over the place. The hook for a premise we were sold in trailers actually takes over half an hour to get started. I understand, and even appreciate, the director’s idea to spend some time getting to know the characters, before the action gets started, but it means that he needs to sacrifice some plot points squeezed in later on. The bounty hunter part of the plot comes up once and while it does include one of the most impressive stunts of the movie, it feels like a side-note rather than what I had assumed was the main attraction. Certain characters end up doing nothing. What happened to Anita, the ex-girlfriend and woman being manipulated by the villain of the piece? She crops up to help the narrative near the end, but then fades away in a busy plot. Ramon Rodriguez’s Joe Peck, one of the lead members of Tobey’s gang does nothing to explain why he is even needed here. Neither do the other characters, but at least they provide some comic relief (Rami Malek nearly steals the show with one of the funniest ‘storming out of work’ scenes in recent cinema).
Characters also feel thinly written. I didn’t understand Dino Brewster as a villain. He only ever did nasty stuff when the story needed him to and I never quite understood why he did the things he did. Sure, we all know he is greedy and his pride makes him act out rashly, but that doesn’t quite give us enough characterisation to understand why he is suddenly comfortable sending bounty hunters after the hero. He is introduced as a rival in Tobey’s past, but it is never explained. For all we know, he could have been the school bully, like a villain in a 80s movie. I am not having a go at Dominic Cooper, because usually he is terrific at portraying intriguing characters, but he is given so little screen time here, we never get his character. Imogen Potts also suffers from a lack of characterisation. Half of the time she is little more than the annoying female co-star with an English accent. While there are moments near the end where she actually becomes quite loveable, and we get why a character could fall in love with her, most of the time she is relegated to the sidekick position.
This is sounding like quite a scathing review. All I mean by this load of criticism is that I get why other reviews have been harsh towards the film. However, when you sink into the fun factor of the movie, we begin to enjoy ourselves. The second half of the movie is actually quite gripping and while I agree that the middle could have been trimmed, it does contain some of the coolest stunts and best jokes. Aaron Paul completes the leap from television to film very well and I can easily see him becoming a regular feature in action movies. While Need for Speed doesn’t quite live up to the gritty realism we were promised, you might find some in Paul’s vengeful hero. He is constantly shaking with grief and anger, flexing his acting muscles in the smaller moments. The best moment of his performance was an early scene where he is racing at breakneck speeds and sees a friend getting killed in a car crash in the rear-view mirror. Aaron Paul lets out this brief gasp and sob. Obviously he cannot break down straight away, as a person wouldn’t register that quickly, but Paul conveys every emotion we need to know about in that single second.
I think Need for Speed’s underlying flaw is that Fast and Furious has been here before and not only done the street racing thing, but topped it. Sure, the franchise has moved on, but in doing that, there were times when Need for Speed feels like a step back. The races are fun, but the longer sequences begin to get dull. It does what a street racing movie needs to do, but little else.
Final Verdict: Despite a messy plot, Need for Speed does deliver as a fun, high-octane racing movie. It just promised to be more than that.