Need for Speed

need for speed 1.jpg
UK Release Date 12th March 2014
Director Scott Waugh
Starring Jessie
Runtime 130 Minutes
Certificate 12A
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 16th March 2014

One half of Broken Shark is a big video game player. The other half has a family. Consequently one of us has been playing Need for Speed games for probably fifteen years on and off and I’ve enjoyed more than I’ve hated. 2010’s Hot Pursuit was a particular highlight, brilliantly combining the thrill of the chase with the already existing game dynamics. Allowing you to play as either cops or racers, it produced some genuinely hearty pounding moments as you tore up the countryside, fleeing a virtual fleet of wailing sirens and buzzing helicopters. As a prospect for a movie conversion though, I was less than convinced….

Need for Speed is the very definition of bare plotting. A young body-shop owner is in financial strife after his old man died. He has history with a girl who’s now seeing a racing team owner who comes from the same town. He didn’t make it on the racing circuit so he’s back in the hometown looking after the girl’s younger smart-alec brother. There is a mythical race every year, invite only, winner takes all the super-cars home. Racing team owner needs an expensive car fixing up, brings it to body-shop owner and asks him to fix it up for 25% of the anticipated $3 million sales price… Have you lost interest yet? Yup, me too. Look, suffice to say that even from the above, you can guess who dies in a street race, whose fault it is and who gets the blame. Chuck in a plummy English car dealer and a Smokey and the Bandit style run across the country and you got everything you need to know for this movie. Or everything you don’t need to know really, it makes no odds whatsoever.

Slating Need for Speed automatically feels mean because really, what was I expecting? Well, I’ll try and keep the grief for areas where I was still expecting something. For starters, Aaron Paul, so brilliant in Breaking Bad yet saddled here with a script that requires him (as body-shop owner and sometime racer Tobey Marshall) to do absolutely nothing other than 1 - when he’s standing, stand with his hands in his pockets looking sullen and socially inept, 2 - when he’s driving, look mean, do that gear change that always happens in movies and peer over the steering wheel like he’s driving for a reason. What were they thinking? Turning an actor who is equally at home with laugh out loud gallows humour and heartbreaking self destruction into a monosyllabic grouch with not one funny line. Nice work. The remainder of the cast? Well…. Imogen Poots (as love interest and savvy car dealer Julia Maddon) sounds like she should be apologising to Chevy Chase for him knocking her off her bike in London and effectively fills the Sally Field role (even to the point of switching places with Paul while he is driving), Dominic West (as cartoon bad guy Dino Brewster) gets no better service from the script than Paul and Harrison Gilbertson as Little Pete gets the short straw in the role of Ensign Expendable. Which would be fine were it not for his more than passing resemblance (check out the hair) to James Dean. Making his inevitable demise all the more in bad taste. Or maybe I’m being too sensitive. Oh, and Michael Keaton sits in a lighthouse raving into a webcam and taking his heart pills.

The movie itself is pretty faithful to its source material (if you can call it that). A spectacular variety of similar looking (to the uninitiated such as myself) shiny cars are lined up at frequent intervals and races occur through downtown streets and out into gorgeously photographed valleys and mountains, whilst an onboard map plots out the journey with a nice coloured line. Some of the scenery here is absolutely flawless, the site of glinting carbon fibre (I think, I’m not a car expert. Can carbon fibre glint?) and the seat shaking growl of the engines is an experience in itself. But what’s the point? The movie desperately wants to turn this kind of racing into a mythological sport, with god-like participants desperate to break the shackles of the hum-drum everyday the rest of us mortals have to put up with (at one point, a character strides out of his office job butt-naked so that he doesn’t have to go back). Reverential music hums as we worship these car-gods and their shining $3 million chariots.

The marketing bumpf for this states that Marshall has been framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Well, that’s partly true. He certainly wasn’t framed for the dozens and dozens of lethally dangerous driving manoeuvres he committed in the name of trying to prove that he was faster than Brewster. I’m not moralising here but are we supposed to just swallow that? There isn’t even any of the ludicrously baggy 130 minute running time spent on just why these two are such great rivals in the first place. I’m sure it’s something really deep but is it really worth gambling a guaranteed $700,000 and numerous innocent cops and motorists' lives on? Wouldn’t that money be enough to buy the body shop outright and keep Tobey on the straight and narrow? If more time had been spent on his motivation and less on, well, I’m not even sure what the time is spent on, but it’s not particularly exciting, then this may have actually meant something.

In the end I guess I’m probably disappointed because with a leaner running time, a less reverential tone and some self-effacing humour, this could have been great throwaway cinema. As it is, Need for Speed turns in as an over-long, po-faced show of largely unpunished, largely unexciting, dangerous driving and shining car porn. Do yourself a favour, go play the game, then watch Smokey and the Bandit instead.

Check out the trailer here.

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