Rating: PG-13
Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton
Writer: George Gatins, story by George Gatins & John Gatins, based on the Electronic Arts game
Director: Scott Waugh
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: March 14, 2014

NEED FOR SPEED is actually based on a game by Electronic Arts, but it seems designed as a kind of cinematic methadone for any potential viewers who may not be able to hold on until the next installment of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS arrives. There are definitely beautiful cars, swift driving, plenty of stunts and major crashes. NEED FOR SPEED also benefits from the presence of Aaron Paul in the lead role. However, the movie never seems to be quite sure how sincere or how tongue-in-cheek it wants to be, so the tone wobbles around considerably.

Paul stars as small-town mechanic and ace driver Tobey Marshall, who owns a car repair joint that employs all his buddies: Benny (Scott Mescudi), Finn (Rami Malek), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and Pete (Harrison Gilbertson). Tobey used to date Pete’s sister Anita (Dakota Johnson), but now she’s hooked up with rich jerk Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Dino brings some amazing business Tobey’s way in the form of a legendary car that needs to be completed. Then Dino proposes a “friendly” winner-take-all race with Tobey. Something horrible happens and Tobey winds up doing time.

Two years later, when Tobey is released from jail, he is determined to enter the DeLeon, a fabled, invitation-only, illegal high-stakes California race sponsored by wealthy Internet VJ Monarch (Michael Keaton). Tobey’s friends are there for him in this endeavor, as is Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), the British representative of owner of the car Tobey earlier partially built and will now be driving. Although the prize is great (winner gets all the cars entered in the race), Tobey is in it for revenge against Dino and to clear his name. He also must cross the country in time to enter the race.

Paul gives a very committed performance that actually elevates a lot of moments into the realm of viability in terms of our emotional response (plausibility is a whole other subject here, one which no actor could hope to bring to this particular plot). Keaton also seems to be enjoying playing ultimate racing fan Monarch, a man who is definitely enjoying himself.

There are questions galore, including how Monarch hasn’t been shut down by the authorities, why there seems to be only one coordinated attack after a bounty has been called, why aerial law enforcement keeps losing one very identifiable vehicle and more. However, the biggest question, and one that produces an increasingly sour feeling as the film goes along, is how Tobey et al can be so righteously driven to avenge the outcome of a car rolling over, when he and his cohorts cause this and other sorts of vehicular mayhem at every turn, often among regular motorists and pedestrians. (Their reaction to running over a homeless man’s belongings is particularly appalling.) In the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, the characters are mostly criminals – and even they are more careful about how their driving impacts civilians than this ostensibly fun-loving and rectitude-filled bunch.

Director Scott Waugh stages some impressive action sequences and stunts, and also deserves applause for actually shooting on location in states including Georgia, Michigan, Alabama and California, which gives NEED FOR SPEED visual variety and a sense of real mileage. However, only a better script could provide us with a sense that the characters and story are genuinely worth our emotional investment.

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Article: Movie Review: NEED FOR SPEED

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