There are points in life where you are faced with a choice; a fork in the road if you will. Choosing one way or the other will set in motion a series of events and potentially have repercussions which will last the rest of your life. This doesn’t really relate to “Need For Speed” except that originally, I was going to see “Ride Along” last night. In fact all last week, my plan had been to see the Ice Cube/ Kevin Hart mismatched buddy comedy but yesterday, the more I looked at the poster, the more incessantly it seemed to whisper “straight to DVD” and that killer phrase “…with hilarious consequences” so at the very last minute, I handed back my ticket and traded for “Need For Speed” (in 3D!). I’m not sure I made the right choice.
“Need For Speed” is a car crash of a movie. I mean, obviously, it’s a movie about car crashes but in and of itself it’s a jumbled mess of a generally good cast, a thin story, truly terrible screenwriting and one of the worst and most lacklustre 3D conversions I’ve ever seen. Some of the driving stunts are admittedly quite impressive but there’s a reason why the publicity machine has been so vocal about the decision to physically perform the car stunts and not use CGI: it’s virtually all this soulless “Fast & Furious” cash-in has going for it.
Talented small town ex-race car driver Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is struggling to make ends meet at his upstate New York Garage where he and his crew use illegal street race prize money to keep their business afloat. When his former rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) returns with an big money offer, Tobey has no choice but to accept. Old rivalries resurface though, and the two of them end up in a street race with Tobey’s sidekick Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), the little brother of Tobey’s ex-girlfriend/ Dino’s current fiancee. When Little Pete is killed by Dino’s cheating during the race, Dino frames Tobey for the accident and allows him go to jail. Flash forward two years later and Tobey, out on parole, has a plan to get his revenge: enter the legendary illegal street race the De Leon, sponsored by eccentric, super-rich internet motor racing videoblogger Monarch (Michael Keaton, and disappointingly not The Monarch from “The Venture Brothers”) and defeat Dino.
I’ve not seen any of “Breaking Bad” (I know, I know) but I’m led to believe Aaron Paul is pretty damn good in it. Likewise, Dominic Cooper is a fine actor but the material they’re both working with here is so very poor there’s nothing they can do to even get it idling, never mind purring like a kitten. Aaron Paul, aiming for strong and silent (we know this because the awful dialogue by George Gatins has one of the characters say it – literally those exact words) comes off as bored and slightly dazed, often looking curiously like a transporter-fused combination of British TV presenting duo Ant & Dec. Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, gives such a drowsy performance he seems like he might nod off at any point and the only time he comes close to emoting is when an expression crosses his face suggesting he’s thinking of firing his agent. Imogen Poots, meanwhile, is woefully miscast as savvy exotic car buyer Julia Maddon while Michael Keaton chews the scenery of his one, tiny set as Monarch in a performance which occasionally bears an uncanny similarity to the character of Cliff Tumble from Children’s TV series “Something Special”. The rest of the cast, principally consisting of Tobey’s garage crew do the best they can with what they’re given but let’s give a special shout out to Harrison Gilbertson for creating in Little Pete the whiniest, dumbest and most annoying cinematic sidekick since “Fright Night”‘s Evil Ed.
The real sugar in the gas tank of this movie is the script. Clunky, illogical and apparently unable to resist any clichéd, faux machismo posturing, it seemingly has no central message and little idea of how to convey it if it did. At every turn, this film is utterly predictable: there’s a point where Aaron Paul’s character actually says, “I did not see that coming!” Really? Everyone in the audience did. Two characters (Julia and Monarch) exist solely to provide exposition or explain what other characters are thinking or feeling or doing at any given moment, because the script and direction give the actors no other way to convey this information. Every character is so thinly written that the makers could have randomly shuffled the cast around at the midway point of this overlong movie and I doubt anyone would have noticed. There are “Top Gear” challenges which have better storylines, suspense and excitement than this 130 minute noisy, poorly executed boy racer fantasy. Ironically, there’s actually very little fetishising of supercars in this film and apart from a few roll-calls of makes and models the only one which gets any degree of attention is the custom Ford Mustang.
The 3D conversion adds nothing to the driving and stunt work and makes its biggest impact in the few quieter scenes where characters have earnest, serious conversations except, thanks to the 3D, although they’re face to face they both look like they’re talking to someone over the other person’s shoulder. Even the racing action itself is underwhelming, preferring to rely on roaring sound effects of quick-clutch gear changing to convey the risk and drama instead of using the camera and 3D to infuse the action with a visceral, kinetic energy. Director, and former stunt performer, Scott Waugh clearly prefers the crashing, flipping and destruction of cars to the skill, strategy and speed of racing and so none of the racing action ever happens without some collision or accident to break the flow.
If you’re a fan of street racing, supercars, or the game which gave rise to this movie you might get some enjoyment from watching this at home where you can fast forward through the worthless non-car scenes but you might be better off just watching someone play the actual video game.
I should have gone to see “Ride Along”. Sheesh.