Based on the well-known video game series, Need for Speed tells the story of small-town mechanic Tobey Marshall’s cross country quest for revenge against that dastardly SOB, Dino Brewster. Released from prison after being falsely convicted of Dino’s crime, Tobey knows the only way to settle the score is to beat Dino in the annual De Leon race, which happens to be taking place in only a few short days on the complete other side of the country. Quickly gathering a crew, a car, and a beautiful chaperone in Julia; Tobey sets off to cross the country, make the starting line and disgrace his rival.
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul makes his first race at movie stardom as Tobey Marshall and he definitely has the movie star ‘cool’ factor down, even if the material gives him little room to showcase it. His banter and quick romance with Julia (the charming Imogen Poots), demonstrate that he has the potential to go on to bigger and better things, given a pickier choosing in material. Paul is one of those rare actors with an ‘IT’ factor, an easy likeability that allows the audience to buy into his plight, even when the logic of pretty much everything else in the film is nonexistent.
As for the Snidely Whiplash to Paul’s Dom Toretto, Dominic Cooper does not come quite as close playing one-note villain Dino Brewster. Cooper is a fine actor who has done strong work in other films, but this is not one of them. His character never seems to have an ounce of genuineness coursing anywhere through his veins nor located anywhere on his person at any given minute throughout the film. The only thing Dino is missing would be a fluffy white lap-cat and POOF! He’s an early ’60s Bond villain.
Michael Keaton also has a very minor role here as the Monarch, essentially the man behind the curtain of the De Leon race. His role requires him to sit behind a computer, commenting on events taking place that even the strongest of hidden NSA satellites would be unable to capture. Still, it IS Michael Keaton and his manic energy is always a welcome relief.
Need for Speed is a movie with just as many plot holes as pot holes and there are entire scenes a stronger director would have had the good sense to cut. Trying to keep subplots ‘light’ do not always work, especially when you sacrifice plot and logic for an easy joke (a character feeling the need to strip naked in order to quit a job, fueling a car mid-highway when a five-minute pit stop seems no problem just a few minutes later). There is a great film in here somewhere, if an editor with a good feel for story would have been let into the cutting room, instead of apparently left handcuffed at the Mobile pump.
The ridiculous plot serves solely as justification for one thing and one thing only: Driving numerous, gorgeous cars really, REALLY fast! In this department, director Scott Waugh crafts one of the more exciting ‘race’ films in recent years. Using real stunts versus CGI amps up the tension and jams excitement into a plot that just does not deserve it. In fact, the actual races and stunts are so well done, they even almost forgive the complete absence of a rational story. Almost. Story be damned, the racing is FUN!
Some movies ask you to check your brain at the door before engaging. Need for Speed asks you to please remove your brain, place it on the ground, and then loudly Lambada on it. Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots’ performances, coupled with some of the better stunt work seen outside of the Fast & Furious films save Need for Speed and, if you can find a way to let the story issues go, you might just cross the finish line having had a very fun ride.
3 out of 5 stars.