Need for Speed – Review

Need_For_Speed_posterFor the first time in quite a while I was finally in a theatre watching a video-game movie. The last time this was the case was probably Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Though Wreck-It Ralph was in theatrical distribution, I missed the boat and since then I had to wait for the newest Resident Evil and Silent Hill: Revelation to come out on DVD before I finally saw them. Was the wait worth it? We’ll get to that in a minute.

Firstly, the positives. Need for Speed is a very straight-forward revenge story with little to no divergent plot threads which makes it an easy movie to follow. The film takes some time to establish the core cast which is nice. Though a little generic, the main characters were all relatable enough that I could cheer them on. Aaron Paul’s gruff lead wasn’t anything special, but passable as the film’s protagonist and Dominic Cooper was a really slimy villain. A little lacking in charisma, but making it up with a lack of moral integrity which was quite spot on.

Scott Mescudi as Maverick stole the show several times and the rambling between Tobey’s (Aaron  Paul) crew was a nice element of levity. Maverick had most of the really funny lines although his role in the end wasn’t very substantial. I was definitely torn on the introduction of Julia (Imogen Poots) and almost instantly disliked her, but as the movie went on, not only did her character grow on me but she also became quite fleshed out and lovable goof in her own right. Michael Keaton plays a limited role, but his gold for screen time ration is quite good. He lets it rip as the elusive Monarch and even though it delves a little bit into the cheesy, Keaton milks the role for all its worth.

I was also pleased with the high amount of comedic highlights. Rami Malek’s emancipated stroll in the buck just broke me and was a nice wake up call after the film’s slightly heavy middle part. There were also thankfully some action scenes that didn’t involve cars, though not that many.

In all honesty, one of this movie’s biggest weaknesses were the racing scenes. For all the boasting that all the stunts were achieved with real cars and no CG, I honestly never got a good sense of speed in stark comparison to another mostly physical car-stunt film directed by another man familiar with video-game to movie adaptations: Death Race. Maybe this is a simple problem of incorrect filming techniques, but the races and chases also felt bland and a little uninteresting. There were some nice highlights but not enough to really write home about. Part of it might have been the complete irrelevance of the other racers. The cars were pretty and that was pretty much it.

The final race in particular was weak and didn’t present a strong end note for the film. Also, while his death was a pivotal plot point, Pete was actually quite an annoying character and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind his “visions” other than to add a superfluous layer of semi-supernatural prophecy.

The plot I can honestly forgive and I wasn’t expecting it to be anything special, but the movie has an odd dual flaw with its structure. Basically, I expected the film to be a cheesy, possibly schlocky, fast-paced action-flick. However, the film progresses at a really leisurely pace which felt odd and completely defeated the purpose of the film’s intended highlights which were the races and chases (which I wasn’t that big of a fan to begin with). Clearly, the film was trying to take itself at least a little seriously to add weight to its story, which I can sort of respect. However, as the support cast was rather two-dimensional and we never really learn about the history of any of them, they are therefore oddly underwritten considering how much dead air there is in the film. Basically, they should have made the pacing more accommodating to the scriptwriting.

Having not played the games at all, I was left in the dark as to the precise connection of the movie and the game series. However, from what I can gather, the film went the extra length to copy some of the circuits and to also secure the signature cars of the franchise to lend it that authentic Need for Speed feeling. If so, good for them, but I honestly didn’t see much worth in the movie beyond being a rather disappointingly underwhelming “car movie”. It’s not the worst I’ve seen from this genre, but it didn’t have anything substantially noteworthy. It’s entertaining for all its worth, but I’m not going to bother sitting down with it again any time soon.

Score: 3 out of 5

  • +1 Michael Keaton acts his cheesy heart out
  • + 1 Julia and especially scene with her and cop
  • “Back in the saddle again”
  • +½ Maverick. Where the heck does he get those wonderful toys?
  • -1 The race and chase scenes, those cars were lacking the thing in the film’s title
  • -½ The pacing, I felt a Need for Speed
  • -½ Anita, the ex-girlfriend, probably the most under-developed character of the whole film.
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