Director: Scott Waugh
Writers: George Gatins & John Gatins, based on the videogame series created by Electronic Arts
Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton
Running Length: 130 minutes
Synopsis: Based on the racing video game franchise, Need For Speed follows Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a blue-collar mechanic, who is set on revenge when the wealthy ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) frames him for a crime he didn’t commit. Tobey knows the only chance to take down Dino is to defeat him in the high-stakes race known as De Leon. However to get there in time, Tobey will have to run a high-octane, action-packed gauntlet that includes dodging pursuing cops coast-to-coast as well as contending with a dangerous bounty Dino has put out on his car.
Review: It’s hard to imagine turning the Need for Speed videogame franchise into a movie – the games (numbering 20 or so installments) are very light on plot and focus mainly on the driving experience. Equally surprising is the choice of cast members – instead of the usual 6-foot hunk with a chiseled body and face, and a model-esque love interest with legs that stretch out to eternity, we have the small-ish Aaron Paul and the quirky-cute Imogen Poots as the central characters. And what’s truly intriguing is that it works pretty well – although the film runs way too long, the great acting chops and charisma from Paul and Poots is what makes the film much better than one would expect. That and the visceral stuntwork with the lust-worthy supercars, of course.
It is natural that Need for Speed will be compared to the Fast & Furious franchise, but the thing about this movie that it has no pretensions of trying to be a huge blockbuster. Its release date alone is indicative of this, and yet somehow this actually aids the movie since expectations while watching it are lowered. Instead of being fast and frenetic the entire time, Scott Waugh takes it slow and allows room for a bit more storytelling and acting. And this is where the film allows both Paul and Poots to really shine – Aaron Paul is a very, very good actor (anyone who has seen the Breaking Bad series already knows this for a fact) and he brings a gravitas to his role here that is seldom seen in an action film. Imogen Poots is the highlight of the movie, really, and her Julia is the most interesting female character that I have seen in an action film for a very long time. Sure, she still has to play the hapless damsel at times, but there is enough meat on the bone for her role apart from that.
Unfortunately Need for Speed goes against its own title and sacrifices a little too much speed for exposition, resulting in a film running over two hours long, definitely exceeding the attention span that most motorheads will bring to the cinema. Although there are three major action set pieces in the film, the final De Leon showdown actually feels like an anticlimax, especially when there’s really no mistaking how it would end. What’s truly great about the driving sequences in Need for Speed, however, is how real it feels, without the obvious digital manipulation that happens in so many movies in the same genre (Fast & Furious 6 was a particularly egregious offender). This is a film that has no CGI and should be respected for that fact alone. This is probably due to Waugh’s background as a stuntman, and the film ends up feeling more organic and comes across as being more believable. It’s not a stretch to say that this is one of the better video game adaptations I’ve seen, although that may or may not be a compliment since so many movies in the same genre have been essentially crap. Need for Speed is a reasonably entertaining diversion, which is about as good as it gets.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)