The stunts are incredible, it's just a shame they forgot the plot and characters
How you feel about Need for Speed will depend on two key factors - whether you're fan of the game and whether or not you love cars.However, anyone looking for something other than cross-country car chases and spectacular crashes will be sorely disappointed by the film. Despite a running time of over two hours, the movie lacks any real plot and is populated by cardboard cut-out characters. In fact, at times you feel like you're just watching someone else playing a videogame, albeit one with extremely high resolution visuals. And as anyone who has done so will know, watching someone else playing a videogame can get very boring, very quickly.The film itself is adapted from the Electronic Arts game of the same name and was developed by DreamWorks Studios, with none other than Steven Spielberg taking a keen interest. Given his involvement you might hope for something a little more interesting than a preposterous plot and succession of car chases but the film does have one saving grace. The movie is directed by Scott Waugh, a former stuntman himself, who eschewed computer graphics and instead created all the vehicular mayhem practically.
Regardless of what else you might feel about the film, the stunt work is second to none with some of the most impressive practical car effects seen in years. In keeping with the film's title, there's a genuine feeling of speed and a palpable sense of real danger to the car chases. The crashes are spectacular, the near misses heart-stopping and the set pieces are superbly staged. The main cast even do their bit, as much as the insurers will allow, having all been given extensive training prior to principal photography.
Strangely the visceral impact of the stunt work occasionally works against the film because of the inherently reckless nature of the street racing, the collateral damage caused and all the pedestrians and other drivers that are almost killed. Instead of empathising with the characters, you find yourself put-off by their selfish and incredibly thoughtless actions. The hero comes across as a thrill seeking idiot, who seems unable to take responsibility for the consequences of his increasingly dangerous behaviour.
The film includes some of the most impressive practical car effects and driving stunt work in years.
Whilst you can forgive this kind of behaviour in the context of a videogame, which is artificial and vicarious by nature, it's far more difficult within the more realistic narrative of a film. Instead of being thrilled by the crashes and stunts, you find yourself worrying about the poor drivers whose cars have been smashed up by these racing lunatics. The fact is that given the damage they cause and the lives they put at risk, all the characters in the film should be locked up for a very long time. This skewed moral compass means that when the hero is banged up early on in the movie, you feel it's totally justified and he has no reason to complain.
Which brings us to the plot, or rather lack of it. Considering the length of the film, very little actually seems to happen and it's thirty minutes before the main narrative even begins. However, for those that are interested, the film revolves around Tobey Marshall, played by Aaron Paul, a street racer who runs his deceased father's garage, which specialises in tuning high performance cars. Tobey's garage is in financial difficulties so he accepts a job from a old enemy Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) to renovate the legendary Shelby Mustang, the last car that Carroll Shelby worked on before his death.
The antagonism between Tobey and Dino is never fully explained but he's a former Indy car driver who now deals in exotic cars and is engaged to Tobey's ex-girlfriend Anita, played by Dakota Johnson. Dino is humiliated when Tobey proves that the Shelby Mustang can do over 230mph on a race track, thus convincing exotic car dealer Julia Maddon, played by Imogen Poots, to buy the car on behalf of her employer. As a result Dino challenges Tobey to a street race using Koenigsegg Ageras and since Dino's uncle happens to own three of these incredibly expensive super cars, Tobey's friend (and Anita's little brother) Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) joins in.
Cue a spot of reckless endangerment, some dastardly behaviour from Dino and the inevitable tragedy which results in Tobey being charged with manslaughter and serving two years in prison. Upon his release he immediately sets about proving his innocence and getting revenge on Dino. To do this he reassembles his old crew and then drives across the country in 48 hours in the Shelby Mustang, with Julia sitting in the 'right seat'. Once he gets from New York to San Francisco with half of America's law enforcement in pursuit, he then takes part in the De Leon, an exclusive winner-takes-all race organised by DJ and former racer Monarch (Michael Keaton).
The plot is utterly preposterous, whilst the characters are paper-thin and reckless beyond belief.
That brief summary doesn't do justice to just how ludicrous the plot actually is and given the amount of damage Tobey causes in his cross-country jaunt, every police officer in the county, not to mention the FBI, would be after him. At one point, when one of his old crew quits his boring job to join up with Tobey again, the guy just strips completely naked as he leaves the office for no particular reason. Tobey's friend Benny, played by Scott Mescudi (formerly the rapper Kid Cudi) who is clearly channelling Tyrese Gibson's character in the Fast and the Furious movies, 'borrows' numerous aircraft, including a military helicopter for one particular stunt. The film also steals classic moments from a number of other famous car chase movies and even includes a trick that anyone who has seen American Graffiti will be immediately familiar with.
The cast try hard with what they have but given this is Aaron Paul's first big role after Breaking Bad, it's a shame he doesn't have more to work with. He was originally going to play the Dino role until, after a Breaking Bad binge-watching session, Spielberg decided he would be better as the hero. Unfortunately Paul's efforts to look intense behind the wheel mostly just come across as psychotic and he lacks the charisma he showed as Jesse Pinkman. Imogen Poots, in her third film in six months, at least has fun and is cute enough to carry her paper thin character. The same goes for Dominic Cooper, who plays Dino as nothing more than a moustache twirling pantomime villain. Meanwhile, Keaton's character is effectively narrating the movie from his home studio, although how he can tell what is actually happening in the race remains a mystery.
Derivative, nonsensical and totally irresponsible, Need for Speed never manages to escape its videogame origins. The film's preposterous plot is populated with paper-thin characters and although the cast try hard, the writers give them very little to work with. The film's morality is also somewhat suspect, as we are asked to root for a selfish protagonist whose reckless behaviour endangers both innocent bystanders and his closest friends. Need for Speed is however saved from being a total disaster by some fantastic practical stunt work, which ranks amongst the best ever committed to film. It's just a shame that the stunt team weren't risking their lives for a more deserving story.
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