Need for Speed is the new driving/street racing movie that’s both a vehicle for Electronic Arts and for Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad). I’m sure they are hoping Aaron Paul’s stint on Breaking Bad will drive people to the theaters…. and maybe he will be a pull but I’m not a Breaking Bad watcher so the guy is kind of a blank slate for me. I’m a little more familiar with the property as a video game from EA… yes, this is a video game movie, though a video game movie based on a long running racing game series that occasionally does have plot lines but mostly is about racing fast cars in illegal street races and often escaping (or playing as) the cops. This movie, indeed, has racing and it has outrunning the cops in said races. It also has a revenge plot and a cross-country race against time BEFORE the big race.
This movie makes an effort to be something other than what it is… and it’s a little unfair for people to call it a Fast and the Furious coat-tail rider though I imagine that series was in the formula when this movie was green lit. But there’s a long history of racing movies in Hollywood and this film tries real hard to be one of them. It doesn’t have the crime and heist elements of the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s just about street racers being street racers, car tuners being car tuners. And it does have a revenge plot line that matters… assuming you can work your way up to caring about it (which is hard since the guy who people are getting revenge for was a walking, talking Dead Meat cliche from the moment he appeared on screen).
Is the movie any good? Well, yeah it’s alright. It’s watchable and I suspect the more you love and know your high performance sports cars, the more you’ll like the movie. Me? The cars look fast and expensive but that’s about all I can say – that level of appreciation was lost on me. The movie presented some serviceable – but not terribly exciting – races that had the good graces to be filmed without an aggressive amount of CGI (if any CGI at all – it all looked pretty practical to me). I can’t say I was ever bored but I was also never truly engaged. And there’s a certain level of inconsistency in the overall plot mechanics that is hard to overlook if any of it is to be taken seriously (and maybe it shouldn’t be). In order to introduce a revenge plot line, we have to accept that a single wreck and a single death matters enough but then ignore that gravity later in the movie when cars are being wrecked with equal abandon – and fire and explosions – yet THEN it feels like a video game where the stakes don’t matter suddenly. Similarly, the female lead is introduced as a whip-smart and daring car enthusiast who turns into a scared, damsel in distress when the plot requires it. I liked her a lot… when she was being the confident character she was in 40% of the movie.
There’s also a certain amount of unbelievability in a movie that involves a cross-country road trip in a car that stands out in any crowd that is being search for actively by the cops because it’s being driven by a guy jumping bail who tears ass through downtown Detroit, evades the cops in other states, and generally drives like a maniac and breaks every vehicular law imaginable BEFORE he even makes it to the illegal street race. But I guess the movie is working on video game logic where, once the hero is out of sight of the police, they kind of forget about him.
I guess what I’m saying is that the movie’s plot and script may not be up to the chore of deep analysis… for a car racing, car wrecking movie based on a video game that largely has no plot. Yeah, sometimes putting too much thought into a movie is entirely too much work.
Oh, and I should also note that Michael Keaton plays color commentary to the street racing in a part that, if you close your eyes, sounds eerily like he’s channeling Beetlejuice. I’m happy to see Keaton working again (he was also in RoboCop remake) but he’s only used as a prop to explain to the audience who’s in first place (you’d think a movie could let us know that by showing, not telling).