It is borderline impossible to dislike Aaron Paul. If Paul was able to be beloved while playing a meth cook with poor to extremely poor English skills, well, it’s easy to root for him while he plays a blue collar illegal street racer. Unfortunately, the movie wrapped around Paul’s racing wunderkind is a disastrous, bloated mess.
“Need For Speed” is based on a highly successful video game from Electronic Arts. Once again, this proves to be a terrible idea. In fact, the gap between the amount of style and substance is so wide that not even the real star of this movie, a gorgeous, souped up Shelby Mustang, could leap it.
This 130-minute (you read that right) movie about street racing shifts gears about thirty minutes in. Initially, we meet Tobey Marshall (Paul) and his crew of mechanics as they fix cars and participate in illegal street races. As with most flimsy plot points, their reason for doing this is money that they need to try to keep Tobey’s garage open.
Once Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) shows up, Tobey’s troubles start. Dino is oozing bad guy sleaze out of every pore and this is further hammered home when you learn that he is dating Tobey’s old flame, Anita (Dakota Johnson).
Need another reason to hate Dino? Not only is Tobey downright sweet to Anita, he employs her younger brother, Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), and treats him like a little brother.
Dino hires Tobey’s crew to restore a Shelby Ford Mustang and offers him one quarter of its selling price as payment. Everything goes without a hitch until Dino tempts Tobey by offering up his share as the prize in a three car street race. Tobey agrees and he and Dino hop into a few cars to race with Pete, for no reason, in tow.
Things do not end well in the race and Tobey ends up in prison for two years while Dino escapes arrest. This is when “Need For Speed” goes from a group of guys trying to earn cash to save their garage to yet another tired plot point, revenge.
For reasons unknown, the purchaser of the Shelby Ford Mustang offers up the car to Tobey to race in an infamous illegal street race and sends his assistant, Julia (Imogen Poots), to babysit the vehicle. The race is taking place in California and coincidentally starts 48 hours after Tobey is released from prison.
Thus begins the “Cannonball Run” portion of “Need For Speed”. Tobey and his crew must get from New York to California in two days. The car chases and vehicle stunts are truly amazing to watch with one stunt in particular as a standout. It looks as though a Mustang jumps two entire lanes of traffic without the aid of special effects. If fifteen seconds of a movie can justify a ticket price, this would be those fifteen seconds.
It would be remiss to not mention Michael Keaton’s bizarre role. He plays a mysterious web caster named Monarch, the organizer of the street race. He never leaves his office, never actually interacts with any other characters, and it almost seems like his role was added months after the rest of the movie was completed. It’s actually a manically funny and animated performance from Keaton and kind of makes you wish he had more to do in the movie.
There is no doubt that Scott Waugh can direct an action sequence. The racing is just as nerve wracking as the unbelievably nail-biting scenes in the underrated and under-seen “Rush”, but the stakes seem much higher here. There’s something about watching people in cars on real streets and highways that cranks the danger up to eleven.
Waugh just can’t turn this brutal dialogue and these flimsy characters into anything of substance. The script by George Gatins gives no real reason to become emotionally invested in anyone involved and every single plot point can be seen from miles away. If only the story had as many twists and turns as the California road on which the finale takes place.
It’s tough for actors to compete with unbelievably loud engines and gorgeous vehicles, but they are really trying. Poots gets to be the snarky, cheeky British girl that knows more about cars then she lets on, while the rest of Tobey’s gang is even more stereotyped. There’s the zany guy (Rami Malek), the serious, deadpan guy (Ramon Rodriguez), and, most insultingly, the goofy, wisecracking black guy (Scott Mescudi).
It’s essentially a cavalcade of typical action movie characters, with Cooper as the lead one-dimensional villain. There literally is no reason provided as to why he’s such a creep, other than he loves money a whole bunch. Cooper is good but this is the kind of acting and role that can get an actor typecast for quite some time.
If you’re expecting to see Aaron Paul act like Jesse Pinkman, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Paul is nothing like the motor mouthed meth cook from “Breaking Bad” and is more like Ryan Gosling from “Drive”. Paul is brooding, quiet, and stoic. He’s definitely channeling his inner Steve McQueen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Paul definitely can act and he proves this by making you care about a character that is written so poorly that there’s no legitimate reason to care about him.
This is essentially a “Fast & Furious” movie with new characters and the general public eats this stuff up with a spoon. While there’s nothing wrong with being viscerally entertained for two hours, it would be great if some actual thought went into movies like this. The action in “Need For Speed” is firing on all cylinders but the story is running on empty.