By Simon Miraudo
March 12, 2014
I don’t think a single actor in Need for Speed is taller than 5-foot-6, nor would any weigh more than 70 kilos. It’s an interesting change of pace to the Fast and Furious franchise. Instead of the sun-swept, Californian good looks of Paul Walker, we have the scrawny, scream-crier Aaron Paul in the lead. In the place of the brawny Vin Diesel, we have British theatre veteran Dominic Cooper. And making up for the absence of buff R&B singer Tyrese, we have indie rapper Kid Cudi, the self-proclaimed “lonely stoner” who makes Lupe Fiasco seem as physically imposing as 50 Cent. For the first time in a long time, us out-of-shape reviewers in the screening room were more intimidating than the action stars on screen.
Need for Speed is, of course, based on the video game, which was based on the line of dialogue from Top Gun, which was probably originally screamed by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer at the apex of one of their notorious wild weekends. The plot barely warrants description, but for tradition’s sake: Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a fast-driving mechanic who wrongly winds up in jail for the death of a close friend. Upon release, he plots his revenge against the guilty party: snotty businessman and casual racer Dino Brewster (Cooper). With his pals – played by Kid Cudi, Rami Malek, and Ramón Rodríguez – in tow, Tobey heads to California to face off against Dino in the underground, winner-takes-all DeLeon race, hosted by reclusive internet-radio host Monarch (Michael Keaton, amazingly). It’s all very silly.
Olivia Wilde recently decried the lack of fun female roles, explaining how “boring” it is to sit on the fringes. So, it’s at least a mild relief to find the awesomely-named Imogen Poots getting the best, most characterful part of the movie. Her Julia – responsible for lending Tobey the souped-up Ford Mustang he’ll use to whip Dino, and insisting she ride shot-gun to protect the million-dollar vehicle – is a sharp, scrappy delight. Admittedly, she has to do a lot of that unfortunate “girl stuff” (scream, get injured, gaze lovingly at our protagonist). Still, there is no character here better drawn, better performed, or more entertaining to watch. No reasonable viewer could walk away from Need for Speed thinking any part of the picture is superior to Poots. No, not even the cars.
Screenwriter George Gatins’ dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, much of it cliché-laden, and the rest bordering on the inane. (“There’s a helicopter in the road!” deserves some kind of award for unnecessarily pointing out what would be a clear distraction to any driver or viewer.) The racing scenes, though… ah! Until Aaron Sorkin or Tony Kushner scripts Gran Turismo: The Motion Picture, ‘cars driving fast’ will be the primary attraction in these things. Director Scott Waugh knows this, fitting the film with frequent chase sequences and shooting them with wild abandon. So much of the action here feels like it belongs in a Crank sequel (admittedly, a PG-rated one). That titular speed can certainly be felt.
Aaron Paul – taking the whole thing so seriously, bless him – is a fantastic actor, as proven by his six years on Breaking Bad. He deserves better than this. He also deserves to get paid, and if he can intermittently appear in low-key gems like Smashed while collecting his NFS cheques, well, I’d be fine with them churning another out every couple years. A massive improvement over Waugh’s last disaster, Act of Valor, I’d even recommend Need for Speed ahead of most of the Fast and Furious films. Except for the sixth one. That one was great.
Need for Speed arrives in Australian cinemas March 13, 2014.