With Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton. Directed by Scott Waugh. Written by George Gatins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language. 130 minutes.
Watching NEED FOR SPEED, you may wish you were familiar with the video game, if you weren’t already. The reason for that is that the video game has to make more sense than this movie. Like driving at high speed, you need to react on instinct with little time for reflection. If you actually starting thinking about what you are seeing, the whole thing falls apart.
The story focuses on an illegal road race operated by the mysterious Monarch (Michael Keaton). Since he’s publicly promoting the race on the Internet, he should not be hard to track down and arrest, yet that never seems to be an issue. The only thing we know about him is that he is very rich which presumably puts him above the law. Let’s hope the Koch brothers don’t see this film or they’ll soon be sponsoring gladiator fights.
Naturally, there’s a good guy we’re supposed to be rooting for and a bad guy who needs to be beaten. The bad guy is Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who has been a professional racer and is now an international car dealer. His motivation makes no sense unless you believe he has a need to drive fast cars off the professional circuit and an equal need for money which trumps everything else.
His rival–our hero–is Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). There’s a backstory involving Dino taking Tobey’s girlfriend, and another illegal road race involving both of them and Tobey’s brother (Harrison Gilbertson) that serves as the prologue to the main story. Why does Dino takes the risks he does? Why does Tobey’s desire for revenge make him the hero? Stop thinking. Vroom, vroom.
Tobey has a posse, including a British car broker (Amanda Poots) who seems to be British only because either a.) the actress is one of the few Brits who can’t master an American accent or b.) the producers thought her accent made her “exotic.” There’s also Benny (Scott Mescudi) who improbably flies a plane in order to give Tobey an overview of his races, including where the police might be. When the plot requires it, he can also fly military aircraft which are apparently easily obtainable at the local Hertz Rent-A-Lockheed.
That’s the problem here. There is no logic to the actions of any of the characters. Another member of Tobey’s posse is Finn (Rami Malek) who rejoins the group after resigning from his job in a broadly comical scene that is not only ridiculous, but doesn’t even offer a line of dialogue to explain its resolution. All we’re supposed to care about is getting Tobey to the big race–even after Dino puts a bounty on his head and people are now shooting at him–and then seeing it to its conclusion.
Not only does the movie makes no sense, but the characters do not even remotely resemble human beings, instead doing whatever the plot needs to move it along. Overlong at 130 minutes, there’s no question that some viewers won’t mind the film’s flaws because they’re there for one thing: souped up sports cars travelling at high speeds. The obvious comparison is to the “Fast And The Furious” series which not only has more interesting characters, but has car chases that put anything here to shame.
There’s no getting around it. This is a dumb movie. However, if all you want out of it is cars going fast, it will fulfill your personal “Need For Speed.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, MA.