Need for Speed wants desperately to outrace The Fast and Furious. Here's why it places a distant last.
With the tragic death of Actor Paul Walker in 2013, the Fast & The Furious franchise seems to be at a cross-roads. What better time to introduce a new series ready to take its place, featuring similarly fast cars that perform all the stunts without CGI assistance? Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the creative team behind Need for Speed that quick whips don't make up for a junky plot and action that feels all too familiar.
When the street racer Tobey (Aaron Paul) is framed for murder by business associate Dino (Dominic Cooper), Tobey vows revenge in the only way he can: by traveling cross-country to challenge Dino in a secret race against other premium automobiles. But he'll need help from his friends Benny (Scott Mescudi), Finn (Rami Malek), and Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), as well as the beautiful Julia (Imogen Poots), whose rich employer provides the wheels. As Tobey and and Dino enter the final lap, Tobey must decide if winning at any cost is the only thing that matters.
Let's get the following out of the way: Need for Speed will and should be compared to The Fast & The Furious, a fact that doesn't help its case even if one chooses to view it upon its own merits. Central to Need's utter failure is its plot, which tosses reality and common sense along the side of the road like a worn-out tire. Normally, wild jumps and stunts assisted by CGI effect wouldn't be a problem, but for a film that makes reality a part of its marketing campaign, Need changes the rules whenever a hole in the script needs to be filled. To suggest that a multi-million dollar ride should actually be driven across this great nation is not only foolish but ridiculous. Haven't these guys ever heard of a transport plane? They do have a pilot in the cast who basically provides eyes in the sky for Paul, but he ends up merely dishing jokes like a stripper dispenses lap dances. There's also the issue of the race itself, which ends with the winner receiving all the high-priced rides as compensation. The problem is most of those are damaged beyond repair by race's end, leaving the winner with virtually no reward for his effort. We won't share who that lucky person is, but it's a critical element to the early part of the story, and one which is forgotten by Act 3.
These genius lapses in logic come to us courtesy of Writer George Gatins, who also saddles Paul with short bits of dialogue that make him sound like David Caruso from CSI: Miami. And while Paul looks good behind the wheel, his performance makes the usually stoic Vin Diesel seem like an Academy Award winner; yes, it's that bad. The gorgeous Poots never has the chance to show off her sexy side, thanks in large part to Director Scott Waugh, who keeps the camera neck high for most of the shoot. Sure, he fills the screen with plenty of fast rides and a few somewhat memorable stunts, but this is in no way a sexy street ride like The Fast and The Furious nor the smart car caper Italian Job. Need races the outer turn, content to reduce its most valued assets - the cars and the thrill of driving them - to mere machines that are used for a specific purpose. This sense of abandonment trickles down to the cast including Paul himself, who feels out of place as a lead, making this less than stellar cast drive like a rental car on a business trip. Cooper, usually an solid casting choice, comes off a typical bad guy and not much of a challenge in the end. This isn't his fault, as again Gatins's script just doesn't give him or anyone else much to say. Such a lack of emotion - an important aspect in drawing audiences to the heroes - plagues the film, reducing it down to a chase flick that's actually pretty boring.
Even with low expectations, Need for Speed fails to satisfy in the slightest. Paul and Cooper are poorly used, the plot forgets to celebrate the thrill of racing ala Rush, and even the stunts aren't nearly as entertaining as the hype would suggest. For a project of this type to finish so poorly should be unheard of, and yet that's exactly how we felt as the lights came up. Rather than wasting your time here, we suggest you catch some of the films we've mentioned above - except CSI: Miami. Your sense of enjoyment will be equaled only by the relief you'll express at steering clear of this dud. You're welcome. Need for Speed is rated PG-13 for for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language, and has a runtime of 130 minutes.
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