Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul)’s father just passed away, and the bank has informed him that he’s going to lose his auto business, Marshall Motors. But Tobey is no ordinary mechanic and auto detailer. He’s one of the best racers in the country, according to Monarch (Michael Keaton), a web series host who also runs an underground race called De Leon. After Tobey’s rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) kills Tobey’s friend in a street race, Tobey is wrongfully accused and thrown in prison, where he waits for the day he can get revenge on Dino at Monarch’s annual De Leon.
As I said in my RoboCop review, there’s something almost charming about action movies that know they’re ridiculous, like the Fast & Furious franchise. They don’t pretend like they’re going to have Oscar-winning screenplays or serious commentaries about life. They just focus on entertaining the unwashed masses with hot women, fast cars, and explosions. Unfortunately, Need For Speed refused its campy action-trope destiny and instead tried to reach for more.
While I did think the parallelism of the two biggest racing scenes (The first where Tobey’s friend Pete, played by Harrison Gilbertson, was killed, and the second where Tobey faced off against Dino) was decent writing and good direction, the rest of the movie had little to no rhyme or reason for half of the stuff it did. You know, like the random scene where Rami Malek’s Finn stripped out of his clothes and left his corporate job to travel across the country with Tobey and the other mechanic sidekicks. It’s like the screenwriters said, “Hey, do you think we should try to get real laughs and not accidental laughs?”
And can we have a moment to mock the “We’re going to drive a $2.7 million custom Ford Mustang across the country” plot? Because, seriously, who would do that to that car?! (And your tires wouldn’t have lasted that trip while driving at top speeds. Because science).
As for the acting, Aaron Paul unfortunately comes off a little “Nicholas Cage” with his surly line delivery. In other words, he takes this movie too seriously, especially considering it’s based on a cheesy video game. Speaking of cheesy, dear god Michael Keaton. Besides the fact that he sounded like Beetlejuice throughout the movie, he got some of the lamest lines (i.e., talking about racing as “high art”).
Dominic Cooper, who plays Dino Brewster (That’s a car name if I ever heard one), is more swaggering douchebag than serious threat. The mechanic sidekicks, as well as Dakota Johnson’s Anita, who’s this movie’s deus ex machina, are forgettable. And poor Imogen Poots, who’s already suffered one shitty movie this year (That Awkward Moment, which I saw and didn’t write about because it was that awful), had nothing to do beyond making goo-goo eyes at Aaron Paul.
I will say this. While the movie sucks consistently in story and acting alike, it relies pretty heavily on awesome cars, which is its biggest draw. Although you can tell the cars are concept body kits (because what production company would actually wreck a Lamborghini Elemento worth $2.92 million?), they’re more interesting than anything else in the movie. And to be honest, there’s more car eye candy than there is actual eye candy (both male and female). If we were judging this movie based on the racing alone, I’d give it a B-.
Overall, Need For Speed is exactly what I thought it would be—a racing movie that took itself way too seriously. Had the movie gone with action movie tropes (like the Fast & Furious franchise), it might have been more of a “so bad it’s good” film for car enthusiasts (that is, the people who say they’re car enthusiasts but know nothing about cars other than makes and models). On a final note, I really hope this movie doesn’t kill Aaron Paul’s acting career…bitch.
Need For Speed: C
For my radio review of Need for Speed on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 26:25 mark).