Scott Waugh is at the helm of Need For Speed, a high-octane cinematic adaptation of the best-selling video game. Aaron Paul (best known for Breaking Bad) is on leading man duties, and this impressively choreographed racing thriller delivers on its promise of flash cars, cocky drivers and plenty of rubber-burning mayhem.
In a last attempt to save his struggling garage, blue-collar mechanic Tobey Marshall (Paul), who with his team builds and races muscle cars on the side, reluctantly partners with a wealthy, arrogant ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Just as a major sale to a British car broker Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots) looks like it will save the business, a disastrous, unsanctioned race results in Tobey being framed for manslaughter. Imprisoned, and mourning the loss of his friend and protégé, Tobey seeks revenge on Dino. Tobey has his chance, facing off against Dino in a secret, highly dangerous cross-country road-race with a massive purse.
Conveniently leaving prison just days before the scheduled event Tobey (with the thick-skinned Julia in the passenger seat) has just 45 hours to drive from the East Coast to the pre-race meeting at an unspecified Californian location to register for the race and learn where it will start. The journey there becomes the bulk of the film as the parole violator races across the country attracting the attention of hapless police patrols (by design as it turns out; a daring escape from a pursuit is for the benefit of a race audition video captured by his tailing entourage) and hardcore drivers pursuing a bounty placed (by Dino) on his head.
The plot is ridiculous, and the coincidences, preposterous conveniences and baffling plot holes become hard to ignore. In the end, it matters little. This is pure escapism; the lazy hero/villain shading and an assortment of well-worn clichés get left in the wake of the spectacular driving. Simply, it is the definition of ‘car porn’ for rev-heads, a celebration of reckless illegality and adrenalin-fueled daredevil activity.
One of many head-scratching questions: How is this illegal and life-threatening race allowed to run every year with a multi-million dollar kitty? The race coordinator and sponsor (a wild performance from Michael Keaton, who seems to relish these at the moment – see RoboCop) is a global celebrity, and his face is all over the Internet. The starting line is kept a secret until the night before the race to avoid unwarranted legal attention; but on the mapped route the drivers aren’t just avoiding intermittent police blockades, but school buses full of kids.
Considering the array of locations utilized for these exciting showdowns – the quiet streets of Mt Kisco by night, peak hour Detroit City, dusty desert canyons and the Californian Coast – Need For Speed has several explosive set pieces. The incredible race and chase sequences are impressively captured from an assortment of angles - air, ground and within the vehicle – so as far as placing a viewer directly in the driver’s seat it is surprisingly successful.
When the guys aren’t working on cars – something we never see happen – they are messing around playing racing console games or hanging out a drive-ins. During an early sequence, where we are revealed that Tobey’s ex-girlfriend (Dakota Johnson) has partnered up with Brewster, the group arrives during the famous car chase sequence from Bullitt. These guys live for the thrill of the race.
While none of the performances are anything to write home about, each actor understands the movie they are in, and inhabits their roles well. The biggest tension-breakers come from Keaton, Scott Mescudi, Tobey’s guardian angel in the sky who is laughably able to commandeer any form of aerial vehicle necessary, and Rami Malek, a real oddball who lives for the adrenalin-charged profession and is ready to drop everything to return.
From my understanding, Waugh denied the use of CGI, so what we get is an added layer of authenticity. These are skilled drivers behind real cars, driving at real speeds. The way the race sequences are edited is especially impressive, considering their length, and it is acceptable to believe that Paul is indeed behind the wheel. Waugh, a stuntman turned director, has a gift for directing the race sequences. Unfortunately, in every other element he suffers.
Yes, disbelief needs to be suspended the entire way, and the recklessness of the driving (and the endangerment placed on the lives of the other motorists) is certainly a concern, but for action junkies and fans of hugely successful The Fast and the Furious franchise, this will deliver exciting escapism.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22