Director: Scott Waugh
Cast: Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson, Scott 'Kid Cudi' Mescudi, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson
RunTime: 2 hrs 11 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Nudity)
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Website: http://www.needforspeed.com/movie
Opening Day: 13 March 2014
Synopsis: Based on the most successful racing video game franchise ever with over 140 million copies sold, DreamWorks Pictures' "Need for Speed" captures the thrills of the game in a real-world setting. An exciting return to the great car-culture films of the 1960s and '70s, when authenticity brought a new level of intensity to the action, "Need for Speed" taps into what makes the American myth of the open road so enticing.
The story chronicles a near-impossible cross-country race against time—one that begins as a mission for revenge, but proves to be one of redemption. In a last attempt to save his struggling garage, blue-collar mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul)—who with his team skillfully builds and races muscle cars on the side—reluctantly partners with wealthy, arrogant ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Just as a major sale to car broker Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots) looks like it will save the business, a disastrous, unsanctioned race results in Dino framing Tobey for manslaughter. Two years later and fresh out of prison, Tobey is set on revenge with plans to take down Dino in the high-stakes De Leon race—the Super Bowl of underground racing. To get there in time, Tobey must run a high-octane, action-packed gauntlet, dodging cops coast-to-coast and dealing with fallout from a dangerous bounty Dino put on his car. With his loyal crew and the surprisingly resourceful Julia as allies, Tobey defies odds at every turn and proves that even in the flashy world of exotic supercars, the underdog can still finish first.
How do you turn a racing game into a movie? Well we guess the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise offers a ready template, but anyone hoping for this videogame adaptation to deliver the same kind of high-octane thrills will be sorely disappointed. And that’s because instead of using that franchise as the most obvious reference point, the filmmakers have instead taken heed from Disney/ Pixar’s ‘Cars’ and we kid you not, this resembles a live-action version of the animated film and comes off all the worse off for it.
Offering up as straightforward a story as you can get, first-time feature film writer George Gatins sets up a personal vendetta between local street racer Tobey Marshall and competitive racer Dino Brewster which forms the basis of the entire movie. High-school rivals whose fates have since diverged, the slicker California-based Dino challenges the less urbane Tobey to a race around their small town of Mt. Kisco, NY, in order to prove which among them is the better racer. Just because Dino happens to be engaged to Tobey’s ex-flame Anita (Dakota Johnson), her brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), who also happens to be Tobey’s good buddy, joins in the race as well.
Playing a one-two tag team, Tobey and Pete force Dino into pole position, which provokes the latter to ram Pete’s vehicle from the back, causing it to spin, crash and catch fire spectacularly. Whereas Dino immediately flees the scene and finds an alibi, Tobey spends the next two years in jail for vehicular manslaughter. Upon his release on parole, Tobey immediately assembles his old crew to drive 45 hours across America to participate in an illegal race in California known as the DeLeon in order to exact vengeance and clear his name in the process.
Clocking in at an interminable 131 minutes, too much time is spent following Tobey and his buddies - Benny (Scott Mescudi), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and Finn (Rami Malek) - as they provide both ground and air support for Tobey’s cross-country drive in a legendary Mustang that Carroll Shelby himself was purportedly building before he passed away. Amongst Tobey’s crew, the most interesting of the lot is unquestionably Benny, who turns up in everything from a small prop plane to a news chopper to a military cargo chopper to provide air recon and eventually airlift to Tobey’s Mustang.
Despite the addition of Brit actress’ Imogen Poots as Tobey’s wing ‘woman’ and obligatory romantic interest, there is little that Tobey and his crew can do to sustain your interest on the way to the expected finale. Pardon our bluntness, but Benny just isn’t a very humourous ‘black man’ (think Tyrese Gibson in ‘Transformers’ or Ludacris in ‘Fast and Furious’) no matter Gatins’ attempt at milking that stereotype for all that it is worth. Joe and Finn hardly get much attention; the most you’ll remember of the former is that he’s a pretty skilled high-tech mechanic and of the latter that he strips completely naked somewhere during the movie to show that he’s had enough of his corporate cubicle job.
In the absence of engaging moments of camaraderie, director Scott Waugh - his sophomore film since making his debut in the Navy SEALS drama ‘Act of Valor’ - tries to sustain the momentum by staging a fair number of high-speed car chases as Tobey tries to evade getting caught by the interstate police for violating the rules of his parole while getting noticed by the mysterious ‘Monarch’ (a terribly under-utilised Michael Keaton who spends all the time in the movie behind a console playing a video podcast radio show host) in order to get invited to the DeLeon.
Waugh’s insistence at using real cars for each and every one of the stunts pays off to a certain extent - there’s often no doubt you’re seeing it for real onscreen - but there is just something oddly disengaging about the manner in which the shots are edited together to form a coherent whole. Waugh’s cinematographer Shane Hurlbut finds a variety of ways of putting the audience right into the point of view of the driver (in the spirit of the first-person perspective of the videogame), and to give credit where it is due, there are a number of good heart-stopping Vertigo shots; but on the overall, none of the car chases are choreographed with the same imagination as you would expect from a Hollywood racing flick, which is ok only if you’re expecting nothing more than reality-show type stunts.
In fact, the entire movie plays like a car stuck in second gear all the way through, incapable of revving up from a persistently sluggish pace even when it’s close to the finishing line. The climax is nothing to shout for, even though it does total a number of expensive luxury cars that you’d wish the filmmakers had simply let you own instead. Waugh’s heavy-handed tendencies with the more melodramatic scenes are also not what ‘Breaking Bad’ star Aaron Paul and his entourage manage to overcome; rather, Paul seems utterly out of his league playing the leading man here, coming off soft, ineffectual and thoroughly lacking in any sort of screen charisma.
Every which way you look, this movie adaptation of the popular videogame series of the same name just doesn’t cut it. The plotting is almost inexistent; the dialogue is awkward, stilted and often cringe-worthy; and the racing scenes barely raise a pulse for the modern-day viewer greased on them ‘Fast and Furious’ flicks. It would certainly have been better if Waugh had tried to launch a new ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, rather than a live-action ‘Cars’ movie that leads its viewer along a road trip down half of America. True to its title, it demonstrates a desperate ‘need for speed’, which pretty much explains why it goes on and on (and on) for more than two hours.
(Running on nothing more than fumes, this interminably long road trip of a racing flick plays like a sluggish live-action ‘Cars’ than a new ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise)
Review by Gabriel Chong