Feb 11, 2015

Review: Need for Speed (2014)

I've only played one entry of EA's Need for Speed racing video game series in all my life and that was Need for Speed: Underground 2, sometime in 2004. That goes back to when renting video games from Blockbuster was still a thing. I remember teenage me actually really liking the song "Riders On The Storm (Fredwreck Remix)" by Snoop Dogg and featuring The Doors. That was really the only memorable thing of the entire game for me. One song.

I loved cars back then and I still do. I was just never very big on modifying their appearances into gaudy, chrome-wheeled, pearlescent painted creations which was a big part of Need for Speed. I liked my cars pure which makes me a snob I guess. The racing series that finally did steal my heart was Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 4 which had exactly the love of cars that I was searching for. It also helped that GT was more of a racing simulator than an "arcadey" racing game.


Genre: action, crime, drama
Directed by: Scott Waugh
Produced by: John Gatins, Patrick O'Brien, Mark Sourian, etc.
Written by: George Gatins
Music by: Nathan Furst
Running time: 130 minutes
Production company: DreamWorks SKG, Reliance Entertainment, Electronic Arts, etc.
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Entertainment One, Metropolitan Filmexport, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $66,000,000
Box office: $203,277,636 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton, Alan Pflueger, Brian L. Keaulana, Logan Holladay, Carmela Zumbado, Jalil Jay Lynch, Nick Chinlund



Toby Marshall (Aaron Paul) was a race car driver, but now he runs a car garage which was once owned by his father with his friends. However, the business is failing and it won't be long before Toby will have to shut it down for good. Things start looking up when rival and accomplished racer Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) approaches him with a deal that would save his business. Although their working relationship is unsteady, things go fine. Until Dino's ego gets in the way that is.


It's quite pitiful just how much back story writer George Gatins tries to pack in the opening minutes of Need for Speed. It's honestly a bit hard to follow because of how rushed it all is. It's not like it really matters anyway. Story was never a strong point in the Need for Speed video games and it's achingly clear that is isn't important in this adaptation either.

Need for Speed makes a halfhearted attempt at being a "car lover movie." All it really does is show a bit of Bullitt with Steve McQueen and make sure every single car model is named in full. Sure, people talk lovingly about cars by just rattling off horsepower and top speeds, but I don't buy any of it. It feels like a car salesman trying to sell you a car that you actually know more about than he does. At least that's how it is for me. It also doesn't help that Need for Speed comes off as nothing more than a Ford commercial. GM's got Transformers, so I guess Ford has got to have their own franchise too.

I do think that Aaron Paul was a good casting idea though. He looks like the perfect boy racer badass from a video game which is exactly what Scott Waugh was probably going for. Toby's strong and silent type demeanor gets pretty annoying though and it's impossible to take him seriously when Aaron Paul's making the most ridiculous faces in some of the longest slow motion scenes I've ever seen. Despite the repeated attempts at humanizing Toby, it's clear that he's nothing more than a one dimensional video game character. He's maybe sort of OK in that medium, but as a movie character it's not possible to take him seriously in any way.

The dialogue is probably one of Need for Speed's biggest shortcomings. The movie itself is pretty full of clichés, so it's not all that surprising that characters talk in clichés as well. Drama scenes are more laugh-inducing than the comedy scenes are and not even a guy like Michael Keaton can really rise above this mediocrity. Keaton is actually the only halfway entertaining aspect of NfS just based on his hamming it up performance.

It's sad, but it shouldn't be a surprise that Need for Speed fails as a conventional movie in quite a few ways. After all, its goal is to be a cool car movie with a lot of action. Does it succeed in that? The quick answer is no. While I applaud the efforts to not overdo the CGI and use dummy car models when it comes to crashes, every racing scene just feels unbelievably overextended and impossibly fake. I like a good time and I like good action sequences, but Scott Waugh is never able to do anything about my suspension of disbelief. 

Simply put, Need for Speed is loud and dumb. It might have nice cars with a bunch of forgettable characters who speak in cool code, but it's far from anything that actually resembles excitement. Action sequences felt like a chore when they needed to work so badly because of how tacked on its narrative elements seem. Need for Speed isn't just another failed video game adaptation, it's also a failure in trying to emulate Fast and Furious. Universal has nothing to fear. 



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