(Courtesy of MoviePosterDB)
Nearly every scene of Need For Speed, the latest video game franchise-turned-Hollywood-production directed by Scott Waugh, takes place in a car. That is not necessarily reason to scoff, but it is a noticeable limitation, especially when characters are not confined to their comfortably menacing headshots through the windshield. Throughout this movie’s extended car chases, the dialogue that really matters is between the cars themselves. The actors, like the shadowy drivers in automobile advertisements, are merely props. The trading of tire screeching and engine revving —you quickly find— is the more important banter.
In reality, this is a feature length Ford Mustang commercial with a forced love connection and a lot of collateral damage. Aaron Paul, transitioning from his role on “Breaking Bad,” as Jesse Pinkman, plays Tobey Marshall, an illegal street racer and mechanic, slowly growling his lines. He runs a repair garage with some well-connected friends and pays the bills with his earnings on Mount Kisco, a racetrack in New York. Things are fine until Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), a former partner and now professional driver, stirs up trouble. Recklessly high-speed racing down highways, Dino bumps the back of Tobey’s friend Pete (Harrisson Gilbertson) forcing him to flip into a fiery death. Dino then frames Tobey, who is sent to jail for two years, vowing his revenge.
That is the short version of a very long opening to set the wheels in motion. Specifically, it allows Tobey to speed across the country in a rare Shelby Mustang to get even with Dino in California, at a secretive high stakes race. Tobey, however, has to get there in under 45 hours to qualify. Breaking parole, and bringing Julia (Imogen Poots), the Mustang’s cute owner, along for the ride, Tobey somehow hops across the country, navigating traffic and escape routes effortlessly.
This movie is based off the popular EA games franchise, but is more similar in style to Grand Theft Auto. As Tobey racks up mileage, so does the amount of civic destruction he has left in his path. When they crash or run into trouble, it is as though writer George Gatins just presses “Pause,” “Quit,” “Restart.” It makes the Fast and Furious series appear like the beacon of simple, star-and-diesel-fueled racing movies.
Keaton, whose enigmatic, yellow-spectacled DJ sponsors this death trap race, is probably the best part of the movie. He knows how ridiculous racing is, yet still embraces it, spinning in his chair and yelling into his webcam. Pretty soon though, even his redundant racing commentary becomes the typical shtick.
At over two hours long, it would seem necessary for Need For Speed to let Tobey consider the consequences of his high-risk vocation, especially after spending time in jail after putting countless lives in danger. There is no contemplation of actions here. The movie is as strictly focused as Tobey’s raging pursuit, which is not so ethically easy to root for either. Waugh, known for directing his first film Act of Valor, which has some blatant product placement, is primarily a stunt coordinator. Apparently all of the stunts committed in the movie are real. Still it is hard to tell the difference because everything about them feels false.