Review: ‘Need For Speed’

Need For Speed Poster

Need For Speed | Scott Waugh | March 14, 2014

Need For Speed brings the popular racing video game to life with its own original story that lives and breathes through the street racing car culture. Naturally, the film will undoubtedly garner many comparisons to the Fast and Furious franchise, and there are definitely some similarities to be had. There’s no doubt that fans of underground street racing and expensive cars will be in for a treat. The real question many of us are wondering is how does Need For Speed hold up for the average movie-goer? Probably as well as one would come to expect.

A big question surround the film was its story, as the game itself has no formal narrative. Screenwriter George Gatins was brought in to create one and worked with his brother John on the story. George ended up handing in the final script for director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor) to bring to life. What they did was create a revenge flick told through a classic ’60s & ’70s car-minded culture.

The talented Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) works with his friends as a mechanic building cars. Only his shop has come across some hard times financially. They help reach ends meet by competing in illegal street races at night. Marshall is a very talented driver, quite possibly one of the best out there, but he never quite reached his full potential. Not like old rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) who suddenly makes his return home one night. Brewster made it pro, and is still together with Marshall’s former girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson). The grudge between the two remains strong, but that doesn’t prevent the cocky Brewster from coming to Marshall’s garage and offering Marshall and his team a chance to rebuild a special car with the potential of a hefty payday. Marshall dislikes Brewster, but indulges in the offer in order to save the garage.

Marshall and Brewster continuously butt heads during the deal, leading to a big street race (of course) in order to settle the score. During the race, Brewster takes winning one step too far, causing major damage (no spoilers) that is simply unforgivable. This race lands Marshall a jail sentence, while Brewster finds a way to get off scott free after fleeing the scene. Years later Marshall is freed from prison and has only one intention upon release: revenge.

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From here on we see Marshall and his team take every step that they need to get the revenge that they seek. This team is a goofy bunch that includes Benny (Kid Cudi billed as Scott Mescudi), Finn (Rami Malek), Joe (Ramón Rodríguez) and Pete (Harrison Gilbertson). Soon they’re joined by Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots) who Marshall met during the car deal set up by Brewster. The teams goal is to head west to get the attention of a mysterious character named the Monarch (Michael Keaton) who sets up high stakes, winner take all races, that every underground racer dreams of taking part in. This would allow them to a chance to beat Dino once and for all, while the whole world watches. Brewster finds out about Marshall’s intentions and tries feverishly to take him out, offering his highest prize cars as a reward to any driver that spots his car and takes them out.

While Need For The Speed may be heavy on the stunts, it stays on track due to its performances. Many fans of Paul and Breaking Bad will be checking out the film simply to see how he fares, and if that’s the case, you won’t be disappointed. Aaron Paul makes his debut as a leading man, putting Jesse aside and becoming fully involved in his new role. He does well for himself, creating a confident and assured character, showing off plenty of range with lots of burning emotion. Equally effective is Dominic Cooper as the film’s villain. He hones in on the role with ease, and instantly becomes someone you dislike. Imogen Poots is charming as Paul’s love interest, with plenty of chemistry flowing between the two. Michael Keaton is terrific as the Monarch, his scenes often stealing the film. There’s also some solid work from Rami Malek who thrives in his characters goofy persona.

Things aren’t always as smooth as the racing stunts (which do look quite real). Some events and circumstances could have benefited from a bit more clarity. Dakota Johnson, who played Marshall’s ex, felt underused, and the scenes between them felt weak, although they were supposed to be important (a weak point in the script). Some additional backstory between the two could have helped. There’s a lot of humor at play (mostly reserved for Kud Cudi), almost feeling like a Marvel entry into the car genre. Some of that misfired for me, but some may find that it fits the mold of the film. The film constantly asks the viewer to suspend their disbelief for many reasons throughout the films duration, some are easier than others to do.

If you go into Need For Speed knowing what to expect, you’ll have fun. It definitely has a similar tone to the early Fast and The Furious films, with high-octane street races and insane car stunts that will leave the viewer shaking his head but also amazed. If anything, it feels like the little brother of the mega-franchise. It doesn’t quite reach its full potential, but there’s room for growth.

My gut tells me that a sequel will come, leading to the creation of a new franchise. If anything, I’d love to see this happen, simply for the fact that Aaron Paul deserves it. Any franchise with Paul leading the way has a great deal of potential and I’d love to see that happen.

Rating: 6.0/10