Aaron Paul is a very good actor. I know that with as much certainty as one can in these instances.
And in Need for Speed, adapted from the video game series of the same name, none of that talent is missing.
A script on the other hand is nowhere to be found. That’s what happens when the plot of your source material is “drive and don’t let the cops catch you.” And while an actor like Paul may be able to delay the inevitable for an act or two, no one was ever going to save a story this vapid.
Need for Speed is a street racing movie, which means it joins the illustrious ranks of a genre that more often than not essentially amounts to car porn. Paul himself plays Tobey Marshall, a struggling garage owner who is thrown in jail when one of his friends dies in a race he was a part of. He swears revenge on Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), the other member of that race who caused the accident.
Of course, since this is a racing movie (and a ridiculous one at that) that revenge entails beating him in the De Leon, an extra fancy street race put on by a crazy guy (played by Michael Keaton) who apparently doesn’t get any of the channels that carry NASCAR.
The winner gets all of the fancy cars they inevitably destroyed to win that race, as well as bragging rights, which as everyone knows is totally enough to make up for the death of a friend.
Yes, Need for Speed is completely detached from reality, with plot holes that only grow larger as the film drags on. Like how a small-time street race can afford sophisticated satellite tracking of every car or how a mysterious rich guy who maintains a secret identity can somehow also host a call-in show broadcast live with video.
That doesn’t even touch on the street racing in Need for Speed, which gets increasingly problematic.
I understand a movie like this deserves a bit of leeway when it comes to law breaking activities. Heck, Paul made his career playing a meth cook. But the total disregard for public safety—often at times that don’t at all call for it—by the protagonists of the film sends a really weird, mixed message at times.
Are these really the guys we’re supposed to be rooting for here?
Still, none of this would particularly matter if the film were just fun. But Need for Speed constantly struggles to find the right balance.
Outside of Paul’s performance—which gives the film its only real edge—and a decent supporting effort from Imogen Poots, none of the cast is particularly up to the task. Tobey Marshall’s loyal pit crew are not only not funny, but gratingly so, rolling through a checklist of stale, overused “bro” clichés. Kid Cudi’s character is so annoying he’s barely watchable. And Dominic Cooper’s Dino Brewster might as well be a cartoon character. He’s so unabashedly evil he manages to undercut almost all of the work Paul does opposite him (though Cooper shouldn’t be blamed, there’s only so much he could have done with that script).
Where Need for Speed should be commended is in its emphasis on stunt driving over CGI effects. As ridiculous as some of the set pieces in this movie can be, I can’t help but feel they would have been a lot worse if you took the real cars out the equation. It was refreshing to see some old fashioned stunt driving again.
Still, real or not, the car chases quickly become repetitive and stale. Need for Speed is about as exciting as watching the video game without actually getting to drive any of the cars. Needless to say, whoever thought 130 minutes was an acceptable running time for this thing has an insane level of optimism.
Final Score: 1/5