Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots
Making movies from video games is obviously complicated. For one reason, adapting the source takes away all the fun of controlling the action. Second reason, sometimes there’s too much existing game-play to fit in a two hour film. I know for a fact fellow Renegade Brandon Groppi would argue that the games themselves are already cinematic. I agree with gamers that most of the time a video game movie isn’t necessary, but a small part of me thought Need for Speed just might work. Especially in a time for guilty pleasure franchises like Fast and the Furious.
At face value, Need for Speed does work. It’s shiny, well-produced and has a killer paint job to go along with it. Then pop the hood and you find that the car is missing an engine. With all the production value this film had going for it, what the studio failed to capture was a plausible plot to get anyone inside for the ride, or even a story we haven’t seen a million times before.
What story you ask? Ah, yes! The payback scenario. Good guy meets bad guy; Bad guy destroys the life of good guy; Good guy gets payback and we all smile. WOOHOO! The rest is pretty much easy for the filmmaker. Place Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) on the good team, because you know… people just love Aaron Paul nowadays. For the bad team will assign Dominic Cooper. Why? Because he looks like a complete asshole in a turtleneck. Sadly, you don’t have to read this knowing the whole plot because you most likely had the entire film laid out for you in the trailers alone.
In Need for Speed, Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a mechanic and racer who is framed for manslaughter by Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Being framed and sent to prison isn’t the issue on Tobey’s mind though. It’s the fact that Dino is responsible for the death of his friend Pete during that race and did nothing to save him. Two years later, Tobey is released from prison and sets his sights on settling the score with Dino Brewster at an underground race called the De Leon.
Tobey Marshall gets out of prison, informs everyone his plan including the bad guy Dino, and then he assembles his misfit crew to execute the revenge. Most of this section of the film I found somewhat entertaining because it plays like a goofball roadtrip film. Tobey is stuck with an unlikely rich girl named Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) for the ride because her Dad owns the car he’s racing with. He travels with her and reunites with his team and they drive cross-country as shenanigans ensue. Plus a few spots of police chasing and obstacles hit as they race to De Leon.
This is where things start slipping apart. The De Leon is a race that is put together by the Monarch played by the incredibly awesome Michael Keaton. In this secret race, several drivers are selected, and whomever wins gets to keep all the cars in the race, tallying to a 7 million dollar total win. Sounds great right? Except during the race, nearly every car involved is either totaled or taken down by the cops. The film makes it clear that the cops usually are a major issue during these races, which begs the question… How does the winner get all these expensive cars if they are either destroyed or impounded? Doesn’t add up. I understand it’s an action film and things must go “boom” but I figured with a writer like Josh Gatins who wrote 2012’s Flight, details would be important.
Even if the script is incredibly weak, the actors involved do very well in taking the material seriously. Especially Aaron Paul who does everything he can to save the show and I feel for him the whole time. No one displays tearful rage quite like he does. Especially when it comes to conveying tragic moments. Scott Mescudi, also known as Kid Cudi plays the most implausible character of the film but he had so much fun with the part, it’s hard to care. His character Benny is hilarious as a pilot who keeps showing up in the most ridiculous of aircrafts, including a military helicopter. Yes, Kid Cudi flies a helicopter… because why not?
The one aspect this film has working for it most of all is the exceptional race sequences. I can whine all day about the broken parts of this movie, but Scott Waugh brought some great stuff here. All the race stunts are practical and not a frame of CGI is used as far as I could tell. Director Scott Waugh was originally a stunt guy, and his talents prove quite effective for the task of making action sequences. I literally felt the weight of the wheel as Aaron Paul was driving. In a CGI filled Hollywood, I found this extremely refreshing as a viewer. If only the rest of the film had the same heart as the stunt-work, maybe Need for Speed could have been memorable.
As far as audiences go, Need for Speed definitely has a demographic this weekend. The same folks who made Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen a smash hit will love this flick. It has the same off-the-wall pointless humor and lazy plotting as those movies. Hell, it even has Linkin Park music. That said, if the tired out storyline doesn’t bother you, and the practical racing is your thing, then this won’t disappoint. Even if it needed a little more Heisenberg, Breaking Bad fans will also enjoy seeing their old pal Jesse Pinkman on the big-screen. The problems with Need for Speed have nothing to do with Aaron Paul though, and if anything the guy had so little to work with. Hopefully, he has better luck with roles in the future because he deserves better than this. I, myself did enjoy Need for Speed on a guilty pleasure level but in no way can I label this a good movie. The sad news is gamers still have to wait for a truly great video game-to-movie adaptation.