March 21, 2014

Movie Review: Need for Speed

I am not much of a gamer. Sure, I like games enough, but I was never good at them and I don't go nuts over the next big thing (which is, I think, Titanfall these days?). So, when it comes to video games being adapted into movies, all I really want is a movie that has some sort of inspiration from the game but, much more importantly, is a good movie. This last bit is the real trick. Games are not an easy adaptation, lead characters tend to be bland, leaving room for the player to impart themselves onto the role, so they have an idea of what they want before going into the movie. If the movie doesn't match their vision.... look out! The latest adaptation is driving series Need for Speed.

To be honest, I had no idea this movie was coming out. I also had no idea that the series gained a plot later on, granted, I have not paid much attention to the series since the first couple of installments which pretty much purely about the driving. The movie was directed by Scott Waugh whose last, and debut, feature was Act of Valor, which felt more like a recruitment video. Is it a step up to think he went from a military recruitment video to a two hour Ford commercial? I guess that is a touch harsh, it has its moments. The story and screenplay are attributed to George Gatins, a first time writer. The end result of their efforts? A sporadically entertaining, overlong car flick. It is no Fast and Furious, but it might have a few better cars.

Aaron Paul stars as Toby Marshall, a young and talented driver who is on the verge of losing his body shop. A chance meeting with an old rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), opens up an opportunity to save the shop. It is an offer that seems to work, but a tragic accident lands Toby in prison. Upon his release, he seeks revenge, so he borrows a customized Mustang that he had worked on, and heads off, racing across the country, to enter an underground high stakes race and have his revenge on Dino.

The story and characters are as thin as they come. All of the actors in play do a decent enough job, but the tale does not really call for much. This is not a subtle movie about deep emotions or hard nosed revenge, it is more about looking like a tough guy behind the wheel of a car, keeping a steely stare in the face of oncoming traffic or pursuing police. To that end, Aaron Paul is not that bad in the lead, Imogen Poots is fine as the female lead, and Dominic Cooper files the role of smarmy bad guy well. The casting surprise here was Michael Keaton as this web broadcaster/race organizer. It was great seeing him, and some of his bits felt very Beetlejuice-esque. No complaints from me.

The problems with Need for Speed come from a couple of different angles. For one, the movie is way too long. Clocking in at two hours and ten minutes, it has its share of draggy, drawn out moments. A movie like this, I would think, would be good at a brisk 100 minutes. At the same time there are elements that are just glossed over. For example, when they get the car to work on, I figured there would at least be a montage of them working on the car, but we get a transition from the car's arrival to it being complete. If I recall, customizing the car was part of the fun, right? Also, Toby's arrest/trial/stint in prison is glossed over from being accused to jumping ahead to his release.

It just feels that moments where we could have made the characters more interesting and the movie more involving are skipped over. Sure, the racing sequences are rather exhilarating, and it is nice seeing action that is not entirely driven by CG. The movie seems to be caught between offering a somewhat real, at least real feeling, take on racing, while also trying to offer some over the top zaniness (the helicopter lift, the jump across the highway, etc), neither side ever taking full control. To me, this movie should have been a quick, fast paced romp into zany street racing in exotic cars without a thought to realism. But that's me, and anything would have helped here, just give it a defined focus ad go for it.

Need for Speed, in the end, is a silly and modestly entertaining car flick. It has a likable cast, some well shot car sequences and doesn't completely insult the intelligence. You could do worse off. Although, you have to admit they do reference a much better chase film early on (You'll know it when you see it).

Mildly Recommended.

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