by Mel Valentin
Hollywood has spent the better part of two decades trying to solve the videogame adaptation conundrum. Translating the addictive appeal of videogaming to the big screen has been, at best, a mixed bag. But two decades littered with box-office failures – and, it should be admitted, the occasional box-office success – hasn’t resulted in an easy-to-translate formula. Even the most successful adaptations, like "Lara Craft: Tomb Raider" or the seemingly endless "Resident Evil" series are pure, brute force commercial successes, pale imitations of the videogames that spawned them. "Need for Speed," a car racing series that’s been around since 1994, won’t break that disappointing, uninspired run. In fact, it should give studio executives eager to make low-risk, high-reward films reconsider videogames as a viable source of IP. Not, of course, that it will. Not when videogaming continues to be a multi-billion dollar industry on par with Hollywood’s filmmaking efforts.Need for Speed centers on Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), a high-end car customizer and occasional illegal street racer. When we meet him, he’s short on financial resources to cover the mortgage on the car customization/auto body garage he inherited from his father. With time slipping away and alternatives non-existent, he reluctantly agrees to refurbish a classic Mustang for his old rival (and onetime friend), Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), a small-town kid like Tobey who made it big legally, racing in the Indy 500 (among others) and owning a high-end car dealership. With a quarter of the projected sale price of $2-3 million, Tobey expects to have enough money to pay the mortgage and keep his multi-ethnic crew, Joe Peck (Ramon Rodriguez), Finn (Rami Malek), Benny (Scott Mescudi), and Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) on the payroll.
"More like "Need for a Better Script"..."
Everything initially goes according to plan. Tobey “meets cute” with a British car dealer, Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), who seems to know her way around a high-end car (until the screenplay requires the opposite, that is), at a nightclub where they’ve set up the refurbished Mustang as the centerpiece. Everything goes sideways – as necessitated by Screenwriting 101 rules – when Tobey, eager to prove himself Dino’s better as a driver, accepts a wager involving his share of the sale against Dino’s super-expensive racing cars. But rather than race on a closed track, Tobey, Dino, and Pete, a walking, talking, about-to-die cliché, take their dangerous competition to the open road. Not surprisingly, Pete doesn’t make it the finish line, Dino escapes unscathed, and Tobey ends up taking the rap alone. Sentenced to two years in prison, Tobey has no choice, but to bide his time and plan (or least think about) getting his revenge on Dino.
Need for Speed’s painfully predictable revenge plot doesn’t kick in for 40 minutes, meaning everything that precedes the crash, Tobey’s sentence, and his eventual release constitute one of the longest prologues or windups to the actual plot in recent memory. A lengthy prologue, however, is just one of Need for Speed’s problems, a minor one at that. Far more egregiously, Need for Speed stumbles badly whenever the characters have to exchange more than two lines of dialogue. Often execrable, sometimes risible, the dialogue bears little relation to naturalistic speech. When forced to utter George Gatins’ dialogue, the actors – professionals one and all, some even modestly talented – suffer. Luckily for them, they’re helped by the frequent cutaways to cars in motion, crashes, and smashes that populate the second half of Need for Speed. Constructed around an illegal race in California sponsored by a reclusive billionaire, identified only as the Monarch (Michael Keaton), with a radio program, a website, and a live stream, Need for Speed eventually sets aside all pretenses of plot, character, or logic.
There’s little respect for the laws of physics, though to be fair, Need for Speed relies minimally on CG, a commendable choice by stuntman-turned director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor). Before the final race, though, Tobey and his mates, including Julia, the obligatory romantic interest, dialogue partner, and passenger, have to drive from New York to California in less than 48 hours. For whatever reason, they can’t transport the Mustang via private plane, but instead have to use the open highways. Once Tobey leaves New York, he’s broken parole, meaning he’s broken the law. Breaking the speed limit only compounds the issue, drawing attention to him and his mates. Despite driving in a truck, Joe and Finn always seem to be ahead of Tobey and Julia while Benny seems to possess the supernatural ability to find and commandeer a variety of flying aircraft as the plot requires.With only one major selling point – high-end car races, crashes, and smashes – and nothing else, "Need for Speed" makes for incredibly thin, lighter-than-lightweight entertainment (“entertainment” used loosely here, descriptively, not qualitatively). At times, it’s oddly mean-spirited, turning the near-misses between speeding cars, other drivers, and pedestrians. Given the shallow, underwritten characters, nonsensical plotting, and unintentionally laughable dialogue, "Need for Speed" offers little – actually, nothing – for non-gearheads or fans of the long-running videogame series. Even moviegoers within those two groups will have a difficult time keeping their attention focused on "Need for Speed" whenever the cars aren’t onscreen.
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originally posted: 03/16/14 19:04:54