Starring: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Imogen Poots (Fright Night), Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street), Michael Keaton (Batman)
Director: Scott Waugh (Act of Valour)
Writer: George Gatins
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Release Date: 12 March (UK), 14 March (US)
After 20 years of trying, we have still yet to get that great video game movie. They’ve ranged from guilty pleasure (Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter) to mediocre (Silent Hill, Prince of Persia) to just awful (basically anything made by Uwe Boll). Like how comic book movies struggled for a while, I’m sure one day we’ll get that good video game movie (I’m looking at you, Duncan Jones’ Warcraft). But for now, here’s Need for Speed.
The long running racing series rarely had plots, and when they did they could be summed up in about three sentences. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. The lack of material could allow the filmmakers to do basically anything they want as long as its got fast cars, or it could cause them to fumble around and do nothing but show us fast cars. Need for Speed swerves somewhere in the middle of those two options. The film does attempt to have both a story and some emotional stakes, but they feel clichéd and half-arsed. The plot is predictable and is basically an excuse to watch cars drive very fast in a bunch of different locales. The film can’t quite decide if it wants to be serious or silly so it flip-flops between the two clumsily. The comedic moments rarely hit and feel somewhat juvenile, whilst the dramatic moments are trite and sometimes confusing (I’m looking at you, Kid-who-has-a-vision-of-the-end-of-the-movie-for-no-reason-other-than-to-add-perplexing-dramatic-poignancy). On a mindless, meat-headed level it can be enjoyable but anyone looking for any kind of substance won’t come out pleased. Then again, anyone going into a movie called Need for Speed looking for substance is clearly lost. To the movie’s credit it’s never boring and kept me engaged, even if the film does run on a bit too long. When your plot is this thin, crossing the two-hour mark is nigh unacceptable.
Aaron Paul proved himself with his work on Breaking Bad, but now he’s entering the big leagues. And despite the lack of decent material, Paul manages to keep the movie on life support through his determination and natural charisma. His role of Tobey Marshall isn’t exactly a deep one; he’s the underdog who’s been wronged and is out to prove himself, but Paul goes for it and manages to carry the film across the finish line when I’m certain lesser actors would crash and burn. Similar compliments can be made to Imogen Poots, who also manages to rise above the weak material mainly thanks to good chemistry with Paul. Props also must go to Michael Keaton, who clearly knows what type of movie he’s in and just has fun with it despite being in a role that is mostly pointless. Other than that, the cast doesn’t quite add up. All of Marshall’s buddies are pretty interchangeable and bland, with only one or two character traits to share between them and even less good jokes, which is especially aggravating because the whole plot revolves around the death of one of these insipid characters. Dakota Johnson serves minimal point to the plot and just looks bored most of the time; maybe she just realised she’s about to throw her career down the toilet with Fifty Shades of Grey. But the biggest fault in terms of the cast comes from Dominic Cooper. Despite being a very charismatic and talented actor in most cases (see The Devil’s Double if you want solid proof of that), but here he’s just awful. To be fair his character as written is about as nuanced a villain as Dick Dastardly, but Cooper makes no effort to rise above the material and remains stone-faced throughout.
But of course, most people aren’t coming to see Need for Speed because of plot and character. They’re coming to see cool cars do cool stuff, and this is clearly where all attention has gone. The car chases are frequent and frenetic, the film barely stopping for a few minutes before another one kicks in. All of the stunts have been done practically, and the attention to authenticity does pay off and makes the races have much more visceral impact than half of the Fast and the Furious movies. The cinematography is very loose and vibrant but never so much that it becomes incomprehensible, and the score eases off when it needed to let the sound of the cars do most of the work. On purely a spectacle level, Need for Speed runs smoothly. It’s just a pity most everything else fails to work.
Need for Speed can be enjoyed as fun popcorn entertainment thanks to the consistently enjoyable car chases and the admirable efforts made by Paul and Poots. But the sloppy script, weak dramatic direction and an uninteresting supporting cast constantly impede on the fun. Considering how little material there is to adapt it’s hard to compare it to other video game movies but it is one of the better ones. If you’re a serious petrolhead you might find enough to enjoy here, but anyone looking for something with substance should stay far away. And so the wait for the first great video game movie continues…
FINAL VERDICT: 5.5/10