Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall
Dominic Cooper as Dino Brewster
Imogen Poots as Julia Maddon
Scott Mescudi as Benny
Rami Malek as Finn
Ramon Rodriguez as Joe Peck
Harrison Gilbertson as Little Pete
Dakota Johnson as Anita
Stevie Ray Dallimore as Bill Ingram
Michael Keaton as Monarch
Alan Pflueger as Flyin’ Hawaiian
Brian L. Keaulana as Right Seater
Logan Holladay as ‘DJ’ Joseph
Carmela Zumbado as Jeny ‘B’
Jalil Jay Lynch as Jimmy MacIntosh
Directed by Scott Waugh
Despite a good movie lurking under the surface, script issues, tone issues, and car chases without good motivations drag “Need for Speed” down like a speed bump.
This film is based on the long-running “Need for Speed” video games by Electronic Arts.
Tobey Marshall has loved cars and racing his entire life. On the streets he competes in illegal races and in his garage he builds custom cars with his friends. Despite his contentment with life in his hometown, he regrets losing his girl Anita to Dino Brewster. Dino grew up in the town as well and went on to become a wealthy professional racer. This makes Tobey and his friends incredibly jealous.
When Dino returns home, he makes Tobey an offer he can’t refuse. If he’ll help restore a custom Ford Mustang, he’ll give him enough money to save his failing garage. Desperate for money, Tobey reluctantly agrees. Despite having success building the incredibly fast and expensive car, Tobey and Dino’s rivalry soon spirals out of control. After debating who is the better driver, Dino, Tobey, and Anita’s brother Pete get into a race with some incredibly fast and highly-illegal exotic cars leading to a deadly accident for which Tobey is blamed.
Two years later, Tobey gets out of jail and he only has one thing on his mind revenge. He plans to take down Dino by participating in a secret winner-take-all illegal race called the De Leon, but first he must drive across the country in less than two days and secure an invitation to the race from the mysterious Monarch. To do it, he’s going to need a little help from his old friends.
“Need for Speed” is rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language.
Let’s call “Need for Speed” for what it is it’s DreamWorks’ attempt to start their own “Fast and Furious” franchise. And why shouldn’t they? There’s obviously a lot of money to be made in the car movie genre. So are they successful? In a lot of respects, yes.
First off, they got a great cast. They got Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad” as Tobey Marshall. He’s a fan favorite from the TV series and he proves here that he can play a leading man well. His role as Tobey calls for him to play the reckless man-child, the tormented soul, and the hero out for revenge. If you watched “Breaking Bad”, then you know this is something he’s more than capable of handling. Joining him are Rami Malek as Finn, Ramon Rodriguez as Joe Peck, and Scott Mescudi as Benny. Their primary purpose is to serve as comic relief and they do that quite well. Rami Malek is most notable as he strips down in the middle of an office and does the mother of all resignations from a boring desk job. Love interests for Aaron Paul include Imogen Poots as Julia Maddon and Dakota Johnson as Anita. They are interesting leading ladies because they come across as more real world women. They aren’t the stereotypical Hollywood Barbies you see in these films and that makes them a bit more likable and relatable. Imogen Poots more than holds her own with Paul as well. Also notable is Michael Keaton as Monarch. He seems to be channeling Beetlejuice here and it turns what would otherwise be an annoying character into a likable narrator for the story.
But let’s be honest people aren’t watching “Need for Speed” for the acting. They’re there for the car chases. On that front this film delivers. The races through crowded streets are well choreographed and nail biting. The variety of classic and exotic cars will have every male in the audience drooling. And plenty of cars are destroyed along the way in spectacular ways that’s impressive, too.
“Need for Speed” also has some fun humor added that shows they aren’t taking themselves too seriously. In one car chase Tobey blows past a Trans-Am that looks like the one from “Smokey and the Bandit”. It clearly shows a tip of the hat to what they consider their predecessor. In another scene a movie theater screen is showing a scene of the car chase from “The French Connection”. It’s yet another acknowledgement of the filmmakers of their inspirations. Those winks from the creators go a long way towards letting the audience know their intentions.
What Didn’t Work:
While “Need for Speed” is fun it many respects, it also has a lot of big problems that are hard for me to get past.
First of all, none of the car chases felt quite right. As they raced between cars on public roads at nearly 200 mph, I kept thinking, “Man, that’s incredibly irresponsible and dangerous. They could easily kill someone.” Then my second thought was, “Man, I must be getting old to think that.” But as the movie progressed, I realized more and more why I felt that way. You see, I adore car chases. A perfectly-executed car chase in a film is like an art form to me. But I realize now that it has to happen for a good reason. They have to be running away from the villain or racing to save someone or trying to keep a greater catastrophe from happening. If your hero is going to risk someone else getting killed on the road in a wreck, it has to be for some greater good. Otherwise your hero is just a self-centered, entitled jerk. Unfortunately, that’s what Tobey and all of his friends are. When one of them gets killed, it’s because they were racing over Tobey’s ego to show he was a better driver. Later, when Tobey runs from the cops in Detroit and again puts the public at risk, it’s so he can secure an invitation to the De Leon race and get revenge. Then, in the final De Leon race, it’s just a bunch of spoiled brat billionaires racing for the heck of it. In fact, in that race, they speed past a full school bus of kids and a police car goes airborne and explodes next to the children. That highlighted, to me, that none of these guys were heroes. So if you’re not rooting for your main character in the film, that drags everything else down.
There are pacing issues, too. The entire film builds up to the big De Leon race, so you’re expecting it to be the mother of all illegal races, but after 1 hour and 45 minutes of build up to it, it’s only 15 minutes long. It’s rather anti-climactic after the rest of the buildup of the film.
Then there are tone issues. There are parts of this that are quite funny, but it’s offset by a lot of serious’ moments that just don’t work. I think if director Scott Waugh had steered it even more towards the lighthearted tone, it would have overall worked better. It would have certainly covered up the fact that so much of this film is unrealistic. Tobey and his friends would have been caught a long time ago for illegal street racing, especially in a town where everybody knows everybody. He certainly would have been caught after a manhunt for his highly recognizable car in Detroit. Then there’s Monarch’s internet broadcast of the De Leon race. The world seems to be able to access and follow it, his face is all over the broadcast, and everyone knows he’s responsible for organizing it. Wouldn’t the cops catch on to this guy at some point and arrest him for running it? The list goes on and on, but you have to suspend a lot of disbelief to get through this movie.
The script is also pretty bad. The dialogue is hokey despite the fact that Aaron Paul is selling it for all he’s worth. It’s very predictable and you can probably guess the ending from looking at the movie poster. It’s also packed with so many clichés that it’s amazing nobody stepped back and said, “Maybe we should do something different.”
Finally, let’s talk about the message of this movie. A lot of the people that will see this movie have cars that share the road with you. They will see this racing and driving fast on public roads and think, “That looks fun! I’m going to try that.” And having seen these characters race and never get hurt, they’ll think they can do it, too. And since the characters in the movie had about 10 seconds from the time they were arrested to the time they are seen walking out of jail, they will think, “Eh, even if I get caught it’s no big deal.” So think about that as you’re driving out of the parking lot with these people after having seen “Need for Speed.” Maybe this film needs a public service announcement at the end showing Paul Walker’s burning car to at least attempt to discourage them from trying to imitate what they see in this movie.
The Bottom Line:
I have never walked out of a movie before, but I seriously considered walking out of “Need for Speed” because I just would have rather been somewhere else. It might make a decent renter if you’re a fan of Aaron Paul, plus you have the option of fast forwarding through the 2-hour running time when things get tedious.