RATING: 1 star (out of 4)
There are many things that Need For Speed needs–the least of them speed. It needs actors who can act. A director who knows which way to point the camera. An editor to hack the unnecessarily two-hour-plus movie about nothing into shape. Also, a script would have been nice.
The cars growl. Not so much because their engines are revving, but because they’re mad about being stuck in such a terrible embarrassment of a movie. The many, many, awful CGI-aided chase scenes are not so much about racing, but about the vehicles doing all they can to escape out of the frame before their reputation among all their car pals is sullied.
Following the grand tradition of movies made from video games — the only thing worse than a game based on a movie, after all, is a movie based on a game — Need for Speed sucks exhaust fumes, sputters and drops its transmission.
Fresh off Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul pulls off the amazing nose dive from history’s greatest TV series to one of the worst movies mankind is capable of creating. He plays Tobey, a small-town mechanic who dreams of competing in a super-double-secret cross-country street race. Either that or three-star that really tough level of Angry Birds Friends he’s been stuck on. Whatever’s easier.
His rival is pro racecar driver Dino (Dominic Cooper), whose mommy and daddy must have been big-time Flintstones fans. Dino’s thing is to flash his designer suits, hire sad-sack blue collar workers for jobs he plans on conning them out of payment for, and engaging in crazy road races that end in fiery crashes. His special skill is looking just like the grown-up version of the kid from The Wizard who bragged that his Power Glove was so “baaaaad.”
Dino screws over Tobey in a bizarre and head-scratching sequence of events that would make fans of Beyblade scrunch their eyebrows, rendering him an ex-con in mourning who must drive from New York to California with Tobey’s ex. Where in California? Nowhere in particular. Just the state.
“It’s a big state,” says the ex, Julia (Imogen Poots), in a protest that falls on Tobey’s deaf ears. People like Tobey need only speed, not accurate directions or a coherent plan.
So they’re off. Tobey is partial to driving the wrong way down two-lane freeways just because, and he’s aided by a helpful pilot buddy (Scott Mescudi) who is always flying overhead in a cropduster, chopper or Apache to bark out directions. Also, cheering Tobey on throughout his weird, pointless quest to do… something, is Michael Keaton as a creepy podcaster who always seems to be aware of Tobey’s movements, as if he’s watching the same movie the audience is, only he’s super excited rather than bored. Despite not caring much for Tobey or his plans, I fear for him that Betelgeuse himself can see all he does and says and seems to like him as more than just a friend.
The Need for Speed games were never much known for their spectacular stories, but this movie can’t even maintain the low standards of crashing, burning and cop-baiting. Sure, there may be a ton of stunt driving, Mario Kart-like jumps and screen-filling explosions, but none of it is all that exciting. Part of the problem is the distracting camerawork, which cheesily sticks you in the cockpit, video game style, and other times takes on a weirdly dull overhead view that separates you from the grit and rattle of the road.
Paul, who proved his acting chops in his years in the meth-addled New Mexico deserts, wears a single expression of grim rage throughout the movie. Even when he’s getting busy with Miss Poots. He has seen better and knows what’s beneath him, and he’s raging. In his glowering eyes you can sense a need for not only speed, but a better agent.
Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi and Michael Keaton. Written by George Gatins, based on the story he wrote with John Gatins. Directed by Scott Waugh. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.