Synopsis: In an exciting return to the great car culture films of the 1960s and ’70s that tap into what makes the American myth of the open road so enticing, Need for Speed chronicles a near-impossible cross-country race against time – one that begins as a mission for revenge, but proves to be one of redemption.
Release Date: March 14, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Action, Drama
Casual moviegoers would not be faulted for not knowing Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed” video game series. Although it has been a staple of the industry for several decades now, dating back to 1994, it also belongs to the very niche racing game genre. Considering the popularity of the Fast and the Furious franchise, the folks at DreamWorks sought fit to try their hand at adapting the “Need for Speed&” game into a Need for Speed movie. It’s a good idea on paper, sure, but knowing the end result you start to question that line of thinking.
At its core, Need for Speed is a road movie; an ode to many of the greats within the car movie genre. Skilled driver Tobey Marshall (The Last House On The Left‘s Aaron Paul) heads out on a cross country trip in the hopes of earning entry into the De Leon, a super secret race where only the most talented of racers and the slickest of cars are invited. Behind all that, though, Marshall has an ulterior motive: he hopes to get a confession out of Dino Brewster (Dead Man Down‘s Dominic Cooper), a longtime rival of Marshall’s who was responsible for the death of a close friend.
In between the title card and the De Leon, however, Need for Speed plays out more like a car chase/stunt movie. Marshall and his crew of knucklehead mechanics get caught up in all manner of silly situations, from vehicular bounty hunters to impromptu cop chases because…well, frankly there’s really no rhyme or reason as to why these things happen. To be frank, there’s really no rhyme or reason to the film as a whole.
What might seem like a nice excuse for a few cool car chases and car races, or even a showpiece for some exotic cars, is actually just an overlong droll of an action flick bogged down by a cast of cliche and goofy side characters. Need for Speed fails to register anywhere close to the films it attempts to emulate, and any of its strong points are overwhelmed by what seems like an endless wave of unnecessary/disappointing decisions.
Take the casting of Aaron Paul, for example. Here’s a young actor bursting with talent (see “Breaking Bad”) who tries so hard to make the film work. He gives his all to the role of Tobey Marshall, and seems to perform a large portion of his own stunts, but most of that will be lost on viewers. Instead they will be focused on the film’s kitschy side characters that exist solely for comedic relief. One bad attempt at such a character may have been bearable. There are three.
My one caveat to that is the casting of Michael Keaton (RoboCop) as the De Leon’s key organizer, the “Monarch.” Here’s a scenery-chewing performance that revels in the silliness of it all, and Keaton is pure magic on screen. Granted, Keaton doesn’t actually appear alongside a single actor in the film, and is mostly just hamming it up on his own, but he’s literally the best part of the film.
With all its missteps in terms of story and character, though, Need for Speed could have, at the very least, been an enjoyable, mindless thrill ride if the stunt work and racing sequences had delivered. Unfortunately, what Need for Speed offers is a flavorless cacophony of car wreck after car wreck that, while impressive from a technical perspective, is well behind the curve as far as the genre goes. You can only watch cars flip upside down, ram into each other, or burst into flames so many times before it starts losing its appeal. Props are due the stunt crew for their willingness to do everything without the use of CGI, but that’s only one part of the equation. Finding exciting ways to deploy that idea is the other, and Need for Speed doesn’t offer enough in that regard. Car lovers will enjoy the selection of exotic vehicles the film brings together, from Lamborghini to McLaren to Bugatti, but Need for Speed merely parades them around like show ponies, never truly highlighting what makes these cars so coveted or rare. It’s funny to say, but the film never actually highlights speed in a thrilling way either.
Racing movies are a rare breed, and Need for Speed exists as proof of an exception to that rule. Trying to balance action sequences with limited potential isn’t easy; neither is finding the right narrative to support a journey on wheels. The film tries its best, but ultimately falls flat with a preposterously bloated story, equally poor dialogue, and action sequences that are just OK. While Fast and Furious has put the pedal to the metal as far as the genre goes, Need for Speed has spun out at the starting line.
For a movie that uses real stunts as its main selling point it’s surprising how unremarkable the car chases and races are in Need for Speed. Watching cars weave in and out of traffic or jockey for position will only get you so far, especially in today’s age. Audiences are no longer satisfied by the basic practical car stunts or even the big jumps – they just don’t get the heart racing anymore. There are a few exceptional stunts in the film that do call attention to the fact what you are seeing is really happening, and for that reason the film might be worth some die-hard genre enthusiasts’ time. As well, the actors deserve some recognition for doing their own stunts. On that note, it seemed like the filmmakers wanted audiences to accept the film simply because it offers those practical stunts. They thought the idea of showing live cars exploding or zipping through traffic would help it skate by. Some stunts are “cool,” but the film does not come even close to achieving that goal.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Scott Waugh
- Screenwriter(s): George Gatins
- Cast: Aaron Paul (Tobey Marshall)Dakota Johnson (Anita)Imogen Poots (Julia Maddon) Michael Keaton (Monarch)Dominic Cooper (Dino Brewster)Rami Malek (Finn)
- Editor(s): Paul Rubell
- Cinematographer: Shane Hurlbut
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Nathan Furst
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA