'Need for Speed'
There are few things more thrillingly cinematic than a car chase, which is why it’s odd that so many movies based around that twisted metal thrill tend to be so dull. ‘Need for Speed’ is a perfect example. Here’s a movie directed by a former stunt man (Scott Waugh) who is hell bent on reviving physical action in a CGI era. He fills this screen with some absolutely spectacular (and spectacularly ridiculous) car chases, crashes, and daring-dos, but unfortunately that’s pretty much all his movie offers to viewers. When a film makes you thinks about how good the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is, something has gone horribly wrong.
Though not without its pleasures, ‘Need for Speed’ is a flick that will make you crave an appearance from Vin Diesel, and no movie should draw that out of a viewer.
Aaron Paul (‘Breaking Bad’, bitch) stars as a kick-ass street racer and mechanic who is asked to build a super-sweet race car by the super evil Dominic Cooper. (His name is Dino Brewster, just to clear up any confusion about whether or not he’s evil.) The car is amazing, sells for a ton of money, and wins a street race. Then the evil Dino demands that Aaron and his bestest buddy compete against him in a race where the winner will take home three super expensive cars and a bucket load of pride. It looks like Aaron will win, so that jerk Dino kills his friend and takes home the win instead. To make matters worse, Aaron gets arrested for street racing and Dino gets off scott free. That all takes about 40 minutes, and when Paul walks out of prison with a look on his face suggesting that he needs revenge, it suddenly hit me that what I’d just seen was plot set-up. The movie hadn’t even really started yet.
That’s right, ‘Need for Speed’, the ‘Fast & Furious’ rip-off based on a videogame, is over two hours long (i.e. too damn long for this type of movie). The plot in that opening sequence is a collection of clichés and, despite the acting talent on display, completely sterile when cars aren’t bouncing off each other. Thankfully, from that point on, director Waugh tells the story entirely through car chases.
Paul calls up a British billionaire to get that fancy-pants race car he built to join in an illegal street race run by another billionaire (Michael Keaton, whose character apparently broadcasts online about his illegal street race 24 hours a day without any police interference). The car is dropped off by the beautiful Imogen Poots, who insists on riding across the country with Paul. So he’s got a love interest in the car with him while racing to the climatic race, and to complicate things, Dino puts a bounty on Paul’s head to prompt a series of mini-races within the race to the big race.
So yeah, that’s a lot of racing. Thankfully, the pile-ups and spin-outs are expertly staged by Waugh and his stunt team. The movie has some pretty mind-boggling automotive feats, with Waugh mounting cameras from every possible angle to capture the action (including several jammed onto cars while they’re crashing, which it a pretty stunning effect).
The problem with this movie is the same problem with Waugh’s debut, ‘Act of Valor’. Yes, the flick is as action-focused as it should be, but the plot and characterization are virtually ignored. Every character is stock, every plot twist predictable, and worst of all it’s played painfully sincere without any camp comedy or irony. It gets very tiring, very quickly.
Granted, Aaron Paul is a talented actor who rants, raves and screams his way to something approximating characterization. Imogen Poots’ natural charm adds a little something, and Michael Keaton’s ‘Beetlejuice’ voice tosses in a few chuckles (even if his entire performance was clearly shot in a single day sitting in the same chair). Unfortunately, none of their work is enough to breathe life into this tiresome turd.
Waugh treats his actors like props in his car show. Without anyone to care about, a story to follow, or winking humor to make the cheese go down smoothly, the movie is little more than a stunt demo reel. Those stunts might be spectacular, but over two hours is too long to sit through a demo. A 30-minute to hour version of this movie would be fun, and a version with an actual screenplay would be even better. Sadly, we get neither and that ultimately makes the movie a dull exercise in automotive mayhem. ‘Fast 7’ this ain’t.