Need for Speed will satisfy any car junkie if they’re looking for a film that can provide some awesome automobile eye candy along with lots of fast paced racing scenes that’ll make the whole car racing genre proud. However, if you’re looking for a plot with substance or dynamic characters then this one probably won’t deliver. It’s not unbearable, though. The story is totally outrageous, the dialogue is the very definition of corny, and the characters so one dimensional and seemingly ignorant to a reality outside of street racing that you begin to wonder if any of these people have any sort of moral compass at all. However, this movie seems to be the definition of something being so bad that it’s good because despite all of its flaws, Need for Speed makes for a pretty fun ride as long as you’re willing to forgive it’s clichés and character tropes for the time being.
Aaron Paul appears in his first leading role of a high budget film as Tobey Marshall, a street racer who spends a couple of years in jail after a fatal race has left him overcome with grief and with a thirst for revenge. Tobey must race across the country over a span of 2 days in order to compete in the super illegal and super-secret street race, the DeLeon, so that he can settle a decade old rivalry with Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Tobey enlists the help of his equally speed addicted friends and not-so-conventional lady partner, Julia (Imogen Poots), in order to overcome the police chases and enemy confrontations that follow him cross country.
Aaron Paul delivers as the angsty and revenge driven character that is very reminiscent of Breaking Bad’s Jesse who we all know and love. Paul does this type of character well but unfortunately Tobey comes off as just too contrastive to the tone of the rest of the film. Need for Speed tries to balance just the right amount of seriousness with comedy, however these two aspects of the film seem to clash more than they seem to go together and gets confusing when you are trying to figure out exactly what type of film this is trying to be. Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, and Ramon Rodriguez’s characters all strive to provide decent comedy but their cheesy one liners come off as totally out of balance with Paul’s seriousness. Not to mention that it’s hard to tell if Michael Keaton’s character ‘the Monarch’, eccentric radio personality and organizer of the DeLeon, is trying to be funny or if he is a character created out of the writer’s total lack of faith in the audience’s intelligence. He painfully spells out the incredible high stakes of the DeLeon race and the tense rivalry between Tobey and Dino as if the audience is incapable of putting this information together themselves. As a result, the Monarch comes off as just downright odd.
Despite the flatness of his character, I was just excited to see Paul in a leading role. His breakout role in Breaking Bad is probably what is going to be bringing in the audiences for Need for Speed. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Paul is a capable actor, but unfortunately this script had little to offer for him. Imogen Poots was surprisingly charming and lovely as the sole female character. Okay okay, there is one other female character, Anita played by Dakota Johnson, but her character is so flat and uninteresting that her she might as well be nonexistent. I believe this is Scott Mescudi’s (a.k.a. Kid Cudi) first acting role and he does a pretty good job as the main source of comedy despite just how cartoony he comes off as.
The plot, as you could expect, is totally outrageous and incredibly predictable. Revenge is the drive of the whole movie, and it seems that revenge has totally wiped out Tobey and the crew’s regard for civilian’s lives or the very possible prospect of going to jail. Nobody seems to even bat an eyelash at these things. The car chase/racing scenes are awesome, though. There’s no doubt about it. It’s even more impressive when you take into account that everything you see on the screen actually happened. No CGI or green screens used. Paul even had to shoot a few of these scenes himself, with no stunt double. These are definitely the best moments of the movie. By all means, if this is solely what you’re looking for in a movie than you won’t be disappointed. It’s the moments in between these that make you wish they packed more car racing action in so that you don’t have to mindlessly experience the other stuff.
You can tell that Dreamworks has one or a few sequels in mind for this movie and is trying to go after the incredible success that the Fast and the Furious series has held. Honestly, I don’t see this one going that route. You can only go so far relying on cool action sequences. You can tell everybody, especially Paul, Poots, and even Keaton, are trying to do the best they can with what this script has given them but in the end Need for Speed is the mind-numbing fuel injected action flick that you expect it would be. It’s not totally unbearable, don’t get me wrong there. It makes for a fun watch and you can forgive its significant flaws for the sake of just wanting to be entertained for two hours, but this one doesn’t even come close to getting at what made Fast and the Furious so popular. So yes, the car scenes are cool. Very cool. However, the rest of the movie is just too much aimed at the teenage boy population to foster any sort of long term affection towards it, despite the entertainment given through some very impressive action sequences that serve to keep the movie afloat.