Although the racing sequences will please fans of the genre, Need for Speed’s predictable plot and lackluster pacing grind the film to a halt. The movie becomes an exercise in waiting for the next action spot with no suspense in how everything will turn out by the time the end credits roll.
Based on the hit video game franchise, Need for Speed was directed by Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) from a screenplay by George Gatins (who wrote the story with John Gatins). The film features an extremely talented ensemble cast including Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, and Ramón Rodríguez, and Michael Keaton – who seems to be having a blast despite being pretty much wasted in the film.
The film opens on Tobey Marshall (Paul) and his gang of pals at his garage. Business is slow and the group is barely making a living. They also take part in illegal street races at night and Tobey is the reigning champ. Old rival Dino Brewster (Cooper) arrives with an offer for Tobey and his gang to finish building Carroll Shelby’s last Mustang, and even agrees to cut them in on a percentage of the sale. The deal later gets sweetened when Dino and Tobey make a bet on a race for the total price of the car. Sadly, this race gets out of hand and one of Tobey’s pals ends up dead with Tobey left to blame even though Dino was at fault.
Two years later, Tobey gets out of prison with a plan to get revenge on Dino by driving cross-country in the Mustang and winning the De Leon street race – which is organized by podcaster and racing enthusiast Monarch (Keaton). Once again Tobey is joined by his gang and even gets a new love interest in the spunky Julia (Poots). The cross-country trek gets more dangerous as Dino puts a bounty on Tobey’s head. Everything moves at a predictable pace as Tobey makes his way to the race, discovers the evidence to prove Dino caused the wreck that sent Tobey to prison, and races Dino in the De Leon.
To say Need for Speed is predictable is an understatement. From the opening moments of the film, it is clear what the outcome will be, and you are pretty much just watching it for the racing. The film has a tremendously talented and likeable cast, but they are all replaceable and none really seem to matter to the story.
Paul does his best to carry the movie and the talented actor seems to be channeling some of the great tension he brought to the small screen in Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman. He isn’t bad in the film, but there just doesn’t seem to be much for him to do and at times he seems as bored as the audience. The best scenes come in his interactions with his friends and the ensemble feel of the film does keep the audience liking the characters. Paul and Poots attempt to make the love story believable, but the whole things feels forced and just left me wanting to watch Smokey and the Bandit.
Thankfully the film excels in its racing sequences and the slick look of the races will please fans of the genre. The scenes (especially the De Leon sequence) put the audience in the driver’s seat for every fast turn and near accident. When the cars do collide, it feels epic and brutal. The De Leon also feels the most like the video game that inspired the movie. From the opening drag race around town to Tobey roaring through the city in that beautiful Mustang, these sequences make the movie entertaining and keep you wanting to stay with it until the end.
On Blu-ray, the film is simply beautiful with the color of the cars popping off the screen and every crash echoing in through the crystal clear sound. It also comes loaded with some great features that show how the race sequences were captured along with some funny outtakes from the film.
Need for Speed could have been a great addition to the genre and might have even spawned a franchise like Fast and Furious. Instead, the film is stalled by its dated and predictable plot and pacing. The film has moments of greatness, but it might not be good enough for fans of the genre to give it more than a passing glance.