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Need For Speed Fails to Fill a Need

  • Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2014 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
<i>Need For Speed</i> Fails to Fill a Need

DVD Release Date: August 5, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: March 14, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (forsequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity, and crude language)
Genre: Action
Run Time: 130 min
Directors: Scott Waugh
Cast: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson, Harrison Gilbertson, Michael Keaton

With the gigantic, global, and seemingly endless success of Universal’s Fast & Furious stuntcar-racing franchise, it’s a small surprise that no other studio has tried to copy it. DreamWorks finally gets on the bandwagon with Need For Speed, a far less muscular take on muscle-car action. The F&F movies are good dumb fun. By comparison (and even on its own), Need For Speed is merely dumb – and at over two hours, outpaces its welcome by a good 45-minutes.

If NFS can boast one thing over F&F it’s this: all the stunts you see are real. Nothing is a computer model or even graphically enhanced. It’s one-hundred percent authentic, all captured in-camera, just like they used to do it. And it shows, but to lesser returns. As expert as much of the high-speed driving is, none of it is fresh.

That's likely due to the real-life limitations but, quite frankly, even more so because of director Scott Waugh's completely uninspired approach. The F&F thrill rides boast ongoing invention, contriving stunts that elicit not only “How’d they do that?” double-takes but even gleeful intellectual gasps of "How'd they even think of that?!" Waugh (Act of Valor, and son of a famous stuntcar driver from the 70s) on the other hand stages sequences that are skilled, to be sure, but are completely devoid of ingenuity. Maybe we haven’t seen this effects-free level of stunt driving in a long while, but we've definitely seen it all before.

That lack of flash further lays bare a completely inane screenplay, one in which the characters aren't only thin but the plotting often illogical, even foolish. Some sequences of peril are driven by decisions that are completely unnecessary and avoidable, yet staged for the sole excuse of action. Then in other scenes, peril is too easily dodged despite the danger being virtually insurmountable. Suspending disbelief is necessary for all films of this genre, but some make it much easier than others. Need For Speed makes it impossible.

Genre films also resort to stock characters, of which this is no different, but the better ones distinguish themselves with sharp, witty wordplay. They may not be original people, but at least they’re clever. No such luck here. The banter is strained, simplistic, and the performances composed of super-cool posturing, with icy glares and intensely modulated whispers as threats are made (“Do you want to do this now?!”) and countered (“No – we’ll settle this behind the wheel.”). But these people aren't cool, despite their exaggerated posing to the contrary (as if the cast is overcompensating for not being Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, The Rock, et al).

The conflict, such as it is, also follows tired, formulaic tropes. A cross-country high-speed escape to a west coast invite-only race is the structure, with the stakes first being high dollar before also, and inevitably, becoming personal (somebody’s killed, natch). Some legal exoneration is also at play for the hero Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul, TV’s Breaking Bad), though it’s something that Tobey ultimately lucks into rather than having fought or strategized for.  Even when on the run from coast-to-coast – breaking speed limits and other laws while flying down interstate highways, no less – the only law enforcement threat he crosses over that 3,000 mile stretch is at a gas station, of whom he quickly dispenses of with Smokey & The Bandit style antics.

The one plug sparking this motor is Michael Keaton (RoboCop) who, as some renegade DJ commentator overlord of the car racing underworld (named Monarch – cuz he’s the king, get it?), brings his Beetlejuicy brand of manic charisma to an otherwise dull-though-attractive cast – or in the cases of Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots (Jane Eyre), good but sorely underutilized. Keaton’s cutaways exist solely for the purpose of mythmaking as he expounds upon the troubled history of the racers, their relationships, and of Tobey especially. Keaton eats up the scenery, and it’s a welcome relish (and clearly an easy paycheck to boot, what with being the only actor on a closed set that must’ve taken a mere two or three days to knock out).

Need For Speedis so desperate for some cache that, despite being inspired by a popular racing video game series, it even milks the Top Gun reference of its title with one blatant nickname (Maverick, which a character endlessly demands to be called). NFS clearly wants to emulate the style and bravado of Bruckheimer’s much-superior action classic, which further reveals how it has no original sense of itself. Director Waugh throws a lot of influences at the screen but nothing shifts this mess into gear. So instead of cheers and thrills, Need For Speed merely elicits shrugs and yawns.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Wine is consumed briefly.
  • Language/Profanity:The S-word is used liberally throughout. Three uses of the A-word. A handful of sexually vulgar terms.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: An entire scene of a man running around naked in a public place (played for comedy), seen fully from his backside on multiple occasions. A kiss between a man and woman.
  • Violence/Other: A couple of scenes of gun violence. High speed car action, accidents, explosions, locations demolished. Non-graphic physical violence.

Publication date: March 14, 2014