Cars worth more than I could make in two lifetimes, proper physical stunts that leave you winded, and adrenaline fueled driving by Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul. What more could you want from a driving movie? Absolutely nothing. So, why then does Need for Speed feel the need to assault me with bad jokes, eye-rolling clichés and an added-on ending that feels like executives securing their franchise options?
I don’t play racing games, but I am a car fan, and an even bigger driving movie fan. Need for Speed looked like just the right bit of serious, hard driving I needed after years of over-the-top (but admittedly fun) fooling around in the Fast and Furious franchise. The movie stars Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall, whose workshop is in financial trouble. Along comes his rival on the track, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who offers him a great deal. An “accident” happens, however, and Tobey ends up driving across America to seek his revenge.
Aaron Paul is a great actor, no doubt about it, and I admire that he is trying a different sort of character instead of just “Jesse behind the wheel.” I do wish they had given him a bit more of a character to work with. Tobey is suppose to be the silent, stoic type, and I suppose that would have worked, had the rest of the film been aware of that fact. Aaron Paul does as best he can, and when allowed to just act you definitely feel his anger and thirst for revenge. The rest of the film is a bit too Gone in 60 Seconds than the stoic Tobey is aware of.
Need for Speed, fundamentally, is a story about vengeance, and as such it is not an attempt to be the next F&F. I’m therefore baffled that the film shoehorns in really bad humour. Tobey’s gang aren’t as serious as him, which is fair enough, but some scenes are so out-of-place they look like add-ons from executives backed by focus groups. When the racing is this hard, and the lead character is out for blood, it feels a bit odd to have random office nudity mixed in.
The clichés, while not as unexpected, are also incredibly stale. The Girl (I forget her name), played by Imogen Potts, is sweet enough, but you could set your watch by her character development: Sassy yet vulnerable, critical of lead until she sees beneath his rough exterior – cut to him rescuing her and smooching. The biggest crime is with the “villain”, a boring douchebag whos looks and sounds like a cardboard cut out villain. Dominic Cooper could have done so much better with some actual material to work with. It’s a shame.
The real stars of the film are not the actors or plot contrivances, of course, but the cars. Oh, good lord, the cars. The final race was like my dream line-up, and the stunts are just fanboy-awesome. Aaron Paul said on Top Gear last week that they spent several hundred thousand dollars every time they had to wreck one of the replicas, and I believe him. They look exactly like the real thing, and when the film just drives, it is an amazing ride. The sound is perfect, the camera work clean and exciting. When Need For Speed is just a driving movie, it is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, from a technical standpoint.
It really is a shame the stuff around it had to ruin the race, but if you’re any sort of petrolhead, you really should see it. Same goes if you want a taste of Aaron Paul beyond Breaking Bad, because while he doesn’t get much to work with, he has a few really good scenes. If you don’t fit into either of these categories, there is nothing here for you.
Dice roll: a fangirlish 4.