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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 28.57%
Pretty Bad: 33.33%
Total Crap38.1%

3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Need for Speed
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by Brett Gallman

"Sometimes, being fast and furious isn't enough."
3 stars

"Need for Speed" might be based on a video game, but it's a film that seems keenly aware of its place in the cinematic car canon. Or, at the very least, it's well aware of its obligation to provide the genre's bare essentials of vehicular carnage--if not much else.

Perhaps in an effort to overcompensate for being based on not much more than a brand name, "Need for Speed" is remarkably overplotted and spins its wheels for a while. Aaron Paul is Tobey Marshall, a gearhead who's inherited his father's garage, where he employs a quartet of fellow enthusiasts. When dominating the local street-racing circuit isn't enough to pay the bills, the guys take an offer from long-time rival and professional driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) to complete work on the Shelby Mustang, a sort of white whale of American cars. During the collaboration, Tobey and Dino can't help but renew their rivalry and attempt to settle it in a high-speed race that results in the death of a tagalong crew member. Dino flees the scene, leaving Tobey to take the fall and a two-year prison sentence.

Upon his release, Toby plans to take vengeance in the most logical way this situation demands: by entering a fabled race hosted by an enigmatic radio host (Michael Keaton) and defeating Dino. Proving his innocence and placing Dino at the scene of the crime might also be a priority as well, but before he can accomplish anything, Tobey has to figure out where this secret race is. Armed only with the knowledge that it's held in somewhere in California within the next 48 hours, he immediately reassembles his crew (plus a well-connected international car-dealer played by Imogen Poots) and embarks on a barnstorming tour across the country.

Though the film's eventual flippancy towards logic is contrary to its cluttered setup, it's sort of admirable and embraces the spirit of a video game. Tobey's incarceration is glossed over and treated as nothing more than a minor inconvenience, not unlike a re-spawn point. Aside from some brief weepiness, the gravity of the situation is almost nonexistent as the script races to the unabashed mayhem and takes every conceivable shortcut along the way. My favorite plot convenience is Benny (Scott Mescudi), a member of Tobey's posse that serves as the eyes in the sky thanks to an ability to commandeer any aerial vehicle and guide the ground crew through various obstacles. He also insists on being called "Maverick," an acknowledgment that the game series swiped its title from "Top Gun," which I think means the film is technically an adaptation of a video game that was inspired by a line of movie dialogue in the first place. It all comes full circle.

Anyway, the middle stretch of the film owes more to movies and serves as a slick update to 70s car flicks. Imagine a less esoteric riff on "Vanishing Point" that's been NOS-injected with reckless abandon of films like "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry." That's "Need for Speed:" a totally unhinged spiritual successor to those cinematic demolition derbies that earns its keep with some gloriously practical stunt work. I'm not much of a car guy, but I know when they look fucking awesome on film. Director Scott Waugh's refusal to forget his roots (he was a stuntman like his father before him) results in a palatable appreciation for the legacy he's inherited. An early scene occurs in a rural drive-in that serves as a hangout for like-minded gearheads gathered in the glow of "Bullitt," arguably the alpha point for our fascination with cinematic car chases.

And what better way to pay tribute than by smashing the ever-loving shit out of a bunch of cars? Waugh seems to have a love/hate relationship with the film's main attraction, which are filmed with admiration until they're put through the grinder. "Need for Speed" marks a return to true vehicular spectacle, as Waugh opts for actual stunts and cars rather than weightless pixels. When that Mustang makes an incredible leap over multiple lanes of traffic, it's the real, awe-inspiring deal. Waugh also employs some inventive on-dash camerawork during some of the crashes to a vertigous effect, a trick that gives the film a true rollercoaster quality. In an era when so many blockbusters rely on digital shortcuts, it's almost ironic that a video game adaptation reminds us of the joys of practical stuntwork.

Unfortunately, it also reminds us that video game cut-scenes are largely disposable. Anything that doesn't involve a race or a chase feels like an excuse to set up either one of those scenarios (of which there are many, mercifully), but you often find yourself fumbling for a controller to skip the filler. Paul is a decent enough avatar; Tobey isn't out of the icy, laconic mold like McQueen or Ryan O'Neal but rather a more expressive (and dare I say weepy) type that gives Paul ample opportunities to emote when the film goes syrupy and serious. The Dirty Mary to his Crazy Larry is the luminous Poots, who grasps what a lark this is and just goes with it. The same can be said of much of the supporting cast: Cooper is amusing as a weaselly heel, while Keaton seems to be doing twitchy riff on Cleavon Little's turn from "Vanishing Point." Any movie that unleashes Keaton's comedic, oddball chops is to be commended, especially when he mostly appears during the only parts of the film that really matter.

Of course, you're left wishing that parts of the film weren't so dispensable and that it weren't always stuck in third gear--it certainly has all the parts for a boneheaded blockbuster, but neither the cast nor the plot quite gel, thus relegating the stakes to the backburner as you simply take in all of the carnage. In that respect, it truly does capture the experience of playing the video games, which often allow players to zone out as they traverse gorgeous landscapes, only to be jarred by the appearance of a random logging truck or whatever other obstacle lay in their path.

Hitting those obstacles is a minor hindrance for players, and the film treats them accordingly with several instances of characters plowing into innocent bystanders and ruthlessly dispatching cops. I can see that being a point of consternation, especially since the entire film hinges on Tobey's unwillingness to leave any man behind to die in a fiery wreckage (so long as they don't figure prominently into the plot).

However, given the film's carefree approach to, well, everything, it's tough to even get too caught up in that. So even the good guys are reckless assholes--isn't that part of the appeal of playing the game in the first place? Anyone who says they didn't get a kick out of disregarding the laws (and the laws of physics) while playing "Need for Speed" isn't to be trusted, and the film offers up similarly cheap thrills that'll appeal to the same part of whatever's left of your brain after it's been subjected to 130 minutes of exhaust fumes.

For all its preoccupation with the cinematic past, "Need For Speed" isn't able to escape the shadow of the present, as it fails to outrun the shadow of the "Fast & Furious" series. Perhaps it makes for a decent placeholder in that franchise's absence this year, but it only leaves the seat lukewarm at best.

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originally posted: 03/18/14 14:46:17
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell need to skip this movie 1 stars
9/27/14 mr.mike See "Vanishing Point" (1971) instead. 2 stars
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  14-Mar-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Aug-2014

  12-Mar-2014 (12A)

  DVD: 05-Aug-2014

Directed by
  Scott Waugh

Written by
  John Gatins
  George Gatins

  Aaron Paul
  Dominic Cooper
  Imogen Poots
  Scott Mescudi
  Rami Malek
  Michael Keaton

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