Need for Speed: The Movie – I’ve got number of issues with this. First off, the fact that, with less than a year since Universal Pictures released Fast & Furious 6, DreamWorks thought it was a good idea to bring out another car porn film. What can Need for Speed do that the Fast & Furious franchise hasn’t already done six times before? Also, having seen the trailer, DreamWorks are promoting Need for Speed as if it is one of this year’s biggest releases. Just because the film stars Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, DreamWorks’ trailer assumes that Need for Speed will be just as impressive as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. DreamWorks are, you could argue understandably, ignoring the fact that Need for Speed is based on a video game. It speaks volumes when the cream-of-the-crop of video game adaptations is still Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat, based on the ‘90s 2D beat-‘em-up. Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill was decent enough, but went wildly downhill during the second half, which is minute-after-minute of clunky exposition and even clunkier dialogue. Paul W.S. Anderson’s second venture into video game adaptations, the first entry in the Resident Evil franchise, was a watchable film based on a video game with laugh-out-loud dodgy voice acting and a bonkers plot. Then you have Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter and Alone in the Dark, all films that completely missed the point. Whenever I find out that a video game is going to get the big screen treatment, lights flash and alarm bells ring. The most I can hope for is a passable way to waste two hours – that’s the best case scenario! Need for Speed is the best case scenario: it is has some impressive stunts, plus a handful of genuinely funny one-liners and gags, but there is also plenty that is wrong with it.
Aaron Paul, in his first film post-Breaking Bad, does his best as the film’s gravel-voiced, strong silent-type protagonist. You root for him when he wins races and want him to get his revenge when the tables are turned, but Need for Speed doesn’t allow Paul to do all that much. You could have had a number of actors playing the role instead, and they still would have been able to carry the film.
Paul’s gang who help him out in a crisis are all likeable. Scott Mescudi gets most of the one-liners, while Rami Malek is given one of the film’s funniest set pieces when he decides to leave his boring nine-to-five job behind and return to the world of high-speed racing. Paul’s friends are blatant narrative devices who come to his aid whenever the police are about to arrest him, or a rival driver threatens to ram him off the road, but you find yourself willing to forgive this.
There are several actors in Need for Speed who are either miscast or grate every time they appear onscreen. Imogen Poots was one of the many things that was brilliant about 28 Weeks Later and gave a hard-to-find-fault performance as Paul Raymond’s daughter in The Look of Love, but here she plays a stereotype Brit: frightfully posh accent and no life experience. Poots knows her cars, can drive fast, but she doesn’t offer all that much help, occasionally being annoying when she screams, whimpers, covers her eyes, or does all three at once. It’s a thankless role and sadly it was Poots who had to do it.
Dominic Cooper is another Brit who could have done with being cast in any film except this one. Here he plays the sneering panto villain. All Cooper has to do is taunt Paul and give a wicked grin; this is all that George Gatins’ script asks him to do. Cooper does his job, making you want to boo and hiss whenever he appears onscreen, but he is given the typical bad guy role.
Michael Keaton clearly shot all of his scenes in one day at a studio, but you question why he is even in the film. As the multi-millionaire who organises Need for Speed’s illegal racing, Keaton has nothing to do except stare at a computer screen and jeer at what he sees. It’s a terrible thing to say about the man who played Beetlejuice, but you end up hoping he never turns up again. Not once does Keaton’s dialogue produce even the smallest laugh, he doesn’t add anything to the thinly stretched narrative; there is no reason for him to appear in this film other than to have a big name actor on the poster.
George Gatins’ script is an odd mix. It takes itself too seriously, yet occasionally manages to add in some humour. What makes Fast & Furious so successful is that everyone involved knows it’s daft, unbelievable stuff; each film has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Need for Speed, with a straight face, asks viewers to accept that a car can soar through the air, land hard on the ground, and carry on like it just stopped at a zebra crossing. There are jokes in the film, which are guaranteed to produce plenty of laughter at the cinema, but none of it sits well. The humour feels forced, that while Gatins was writing the script, someone pointed out that it was too deadpan, so Gatins decided to throw in as many gags as he could come up with. If Need for Speed had been light-hearted throughout, instead of pretending that what you are watching is life-or-death, it would have been much more enjoyable.
Need for Speed is not about logic, or fully fleshed-out characters, or a well thought-out narrative with dozens of subplots, it’s about fast cars and stunts. All of the races in the film are watchable, but rarely produce any thrills. It all feels like it’s been done before, and better. Each race relies on long aerial shots, occasionally giving a close up of a driver concentrating on the road, or a view from the windscreen, using a shaky, juddering camera. There are some imaginative, wince-inducing crashes to get the pulse racing, but these are few-and-far-between. Considering cars driving at ridiculous speeds is the reason why people will go to see Need for Speed, these scenes are run-of-the-mill, unexceptional stuff. The film even has the nerve to show clips from the classic car chase in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, but is nowhere near as inventive.
Need for Speed is a harmless enough two hours, but it’s a mess; an average entry in the car chase sub-genre rather than one of the best. If you’re after a great car chase film, The Cannonball Run or the Michael Caine original of The Italian Job are the very top-drawer. Alternatively, you could always play EA’s video games.
2 out of 5