Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Scott Waugh
Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Harrison Gilbertson, Michael Keaton, Scott Mesudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Imogen Poots.
Rev heads and action fans anxious for the arrival of the next instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise can get their adrenaline rush and fix of car porn with Need For Speed. This is a fast-paced, testosterone-fuelled F&F clone based on a popular video game about the gritty world of illegal street car racing. Films based on video games are usually pretty bad (Streetfighter, Mortal Kombat spring to mind), so expectations were not that high for Need For Speed. However, the film does have some good moments, and is rarely dull as director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor) moves things along at a rapid pace.
Aaron Paul (best known for playing Jesse Pinkman in the hit tv series Breaking Bad) stars as Tobey Marshall, a street racer with a formidable reputation for racing muscle cars in his home town of Mt Kisco in upstate New York. He runs his father’s auto shop, but is struggling financially. Which is why he reluctantly accepts an offer from former high school rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), now a spoiled rich kid into car racing and collecting luxury cars. Dino enlists Tobey’s help to rebuild an old Mustang, and offers to give him a portion of the profits from the sale. But then he reneges on the deal, and challenges Tobey to a winner take all race. But it ends tragically with the death of Tobey’s younger brother Pete (Australian actor Harrison Gilbertson). Dino frames Tobey for the death, and Tobey spends two years in jail.
Upon his release he is eager for revenge. He gets his chance when he learns about the De Leon, an illegal winner takes all, challenging and grueling high stakes cross country race run by the mysterious Monarch (Michael Keaton). He assembles his crack team of mechanics, including Finn (Rami Malek) and Joe (Ramon Rodriguez). And also lending a hand is Benni (rapper Kid Cudi, aka Scott Mescudi), who flies a spotter plane to help Tobey negotiate traffic obstacles and monitors his progress during the race. He even manages to fly an army helicopter at one point to help Tobey out of a tight spot.
Tobey’s quest for vengeance adds a fresh element to the familiar and formulaic car race drama that seems like a variation on the whole Fast & Furious franchise. Tobey manages to gain entry into the race, and has a couple of days to drive across the country to San Francisco. He is accompanied by the feisty Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), who has provided Tobey with the car he is going to drive in the race. However, Dino puts a bounty on Tobey’s head in an effort to prevent him from making the start of the race.
What follows are some spectacular car crashes and high octane action, but a healthy suspension of disbelief is also required. With its cross country car racing action and flagrant disregard for the rules of the road, Need For Speed harks back to films from the 70s and 80s, like Eat My Dust, Death Race 2000, The Gumball Rally, Cannonball Run and Smokey And The Bandit and their ilk. Director Waugh is a former stunt coordinator who, like the late, great Hal Needham before him, knows how to stage some bone-crunching vehicular mayhem. Much of the high speed action here is real, performed by stunt drivers rather than with CGI effects and visual trickery, which adds a frisson of real danger to much of the action.
This is the first screenplay been written by George Gatins (a former producer), and the underdeveloped and formulaic plot packs in a number of the usual cliches of the genre.
In his first film role since tv series Breaking Bad finished, Paul doesn’t really have a lot to do, but is effective enough in the role. Cooper plays the villain of the piece well, and plays Dino as a one dimensional character, a loathsome character without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. After an absence from the screen for a few years, Keaton (the former Batman and Beetlejuice star) seems to have returned to the screen with a vengeance, already having appeared in the recent Robocop remake, and he brings his usual manic quality to his performance here. He also acts as a de facto narrator for the race, calling the action and describing what we have just seen on the screen, and his role seems like an afterthought to pad out the film’s generous running time.
Need For Speed features some cool cars and some spectacular stunt work, and will appeal mainly to those who love this sort of mindless mayhem. And it fills the gap until the next instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise arrives on the screen.