A popular street racing video game I vaguely remember playing on weekends during my high school days gets the big screen treatment. Then, they cast Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul in the main role and that’s where things start to get interesting. But can Jesse Pinkman himself lift this one out of the doldrums of video game movie purgatory and into the realm of solid entertainment? My review of Need for Speed after the jump.
When ace street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) accepts a job from Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), he thinks he’ll soon have enough cash to save his car modification business. Instead, he sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a great personal tragedy and jail time for Marshall, due to the treacherous Brewster. Upon his release, Marshall plots his revenge with the help of his car modification crew and the car-savvy Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots).
I will confess to being drawn to this film solely on the strength of Paul’s casting (yes, I adore Breaking Bad) and a passable trailer that showed off some pretty slick vehicular mayhem. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: this is a ridiculous film. The characters get into the most ludicrous situations and half of their reactions to these don’t make any particular sense. There’s also a blatant disregard for bystanders who might potentially be injured or killed during the high-speed sequences and yes, plenty of policeman trying to put a stop to the shenanigans probably end up badly hurt or even killed.
Collateral damage aside though, the action does hit the spot and to be honest, that’s the only reason why most would watch the film. This is shot with minimal CGI and successfully portrays the sense of speed and power achieved by the many high performance cars. There are plenty of shots from the drivers’ point of view and on the whole the action has a 70’s car chase feel to it which reminds me of the brilliant car chase in the underrated Jack Reacher. In one scene, the characters watch Bullit at a drive-in theatre just in case we were too dense and couldn’t fathom what they were trying to go for. Slow-mo is used a little too liberally here, I kept getting reminded of that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when a couple of mechanics take Cameron’s dad’s car for a joyride. The cinematography is surprisingly beautiful at times, especially the scene where Tobey’s car is lifted out of the sky by an apache helicopter.
Paul is generally solid; he begins a little one-dimensional and one emotional scene which involves him yelling ‘Nooooo!’ repeatedly while the obligatory sad music with female vocals plays is cringe-worthy. However, he improves gradually and whenever he snarls at the contemptible Dino Brewster, we get flashes of greatness that he displayed in Breaking Bad. The rest of the cast is a very mixed bag. While it’s great to see Mr. Mom himself, Michael Keaton, in more films, he gives a performance reminiscent of a particularly caffeinated Nicolas Cage. Imogen Poots isn’t bad as the love interest. Though initially annoying, she does start to grow on you as the film progresses.
Thankfully, the film does have a sense of humour, though it’s an offbeat one that some will like while others would be shaking their heads in embarrassment. An example: Benny (Scott Mescudi) who looks out for Tobey from above in various aircraft breaks out into an a capella version of Seal’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’. There is a cut to the inside of Tobey’s car where we hear the rendition and you can see a picture of Benny’s rather comical caller ID photo. This scene sums up the film nicely: it’s ridiculous, kind of stupid but if you’re willing to overlook some of these flaws, you’ll have a pretty decent time.
By Johnson Hii
Director: Scott Waugh
Writer(s): George Gatins
Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi
Runtime: 130 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 13 2014; USA: March 14 2014; New Zealand: March 20 2014