Following a long and intensive street racing sequence that opens Need for Speed, I’d had my fix of burning rubber, actors intensely staring out from behind a steering wheel, and enough ‘bros’ to make a dictionary want to take an early retirement. The problem was that there was another two hours of automotive spectacle left and nothing but constantly revving engines.
Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a mechanic/driver who wrongfully goes to jail after an illegal street race against an entrepreneur/driver, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), ends with the death of his friend/driver. Once Tobey is released from prison he seeks justice by tracking down Brewster and luring him into a million dollar super-secret racing event to expose the truth.
When empathy lies with the faceless extras, and not the main characters, there’s a major problem. I mourned the nameless drivers who were slaughtered while Marshall drove onto the wrong side of the road through a suburban area at high speeds to exact his revenge. They are civilians and police officers, fathers and wives, somebody’s son or daughter. The collateral damage done on the streets in this film is insane, and it exposes the moronic platform Need for Speed takes in glorifying the actions of a group of the douchebag elite. Director Scott Waugh and screenwriter George Gatins want you to think that every action Marshall takes, no matter how reckless, is in the pursuit of justice for his buddy’s death, and it’s all presented under the guise of ‘hey, don’t worry, this is a dumb action movie’. Waugh and Gatins desperately want investment in the concept of death to kick-start their revenge narrative, but the execution refuses to accept any of the consequences.
Paul does his best passing kidney stones face throughout and pronounces each line of dialogue through gritted teeth; it gets old real fast. Surrounding Paul is a group of bland racially diverse sidekicks designed for the young male demographic the film is targeted at to project onto. Cooper channels the spirit of every soap opera villain in a cringe worthy fashion. Imogen Poots adds some frivolity despite the macho attitude Waugh and Gatins take in stacking the odds against her. There is a scene where two of the male characters freak out because Poots’ character has an independent thought and they say to each other ‘she talks too much’. It’s admirable that Poots survived the production without starting a feminist revolt.
The million dollar racing event that serves as the big finale has the benefit of showing off sports cars including the Bugatti Veyron which is a rare sight in racing films, and it’s fun seeing it share a few scrapes with a Ferrari. If I hadn’t been tortured by the preceding automotive porn it would have been worth getting excited about.
Need for Speed ensures that the reputation of films based on videogames remains in tatters. It’s a lemon.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW