The first thing we need to get out of the way is the simple recognition that “Need for Speed” is a preposterous movie. It’s riddled with plot holes, the characters are underwritten and it clocks in at an unwieldy 130 minutes.
But then that’s not really why this movie exists, now is it? Much like the “Fast and Furious” franchise it is so blatantly ripping off, “Need for Speed” is about cool cars going fast and doing cool things.
Based on that metric and that metric alone, the movie is a success. Directed by former stuntman Scott Waugh (whose only other directing credit is the Navy SEAL flick “Act of Valor”), “Need for Speed” has enough white-knuckle, hairpin turns, and glorious explosions to make Steve McQueen nod approvingly from that great dirt track in the sky.
Even more impressive, there’s barely a computer-generated pixel to be spotted on screen as these cars are crashed just like in the good old days, by ramming actual cars into each other.
The downside to the rest of the movie being such a hot mess is that as jaw-dropping as it is, it’s impossible to care about all of the automotive carnage.
Based on a plotless video game franchise, “Need for Speed” at least gets credit for casting decent actors to fill the cardboard roles.
Our hero Tobey Marshall is played by Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad” fame. Unfortunately, Paul’s giving criminally little to do other than drive and pout, so I hope he collected a nice paycheck out of all this. Tobey is a standup, blue-collar guy who reigns as the unofficial street-racing champ of upstate New York.
Things go bad for Tobey when he and his buddy Pete (Harrison Gilberston) get roped into a high-stakes street race with rich jerk Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Pete is killed in a fiery crash and Dino splits the scene and concocts an alibi, leaving Tobey to take the rap for a manslaughter charge.
When Tobey gets out of jail he decides the only way he can get back at Dino is to beat him in a top-secret street race staged by Monarch (Michael Keaton) who is some sort of Internet talk-show host whose only focus seems to be underground street racing. I guess?
I’m not even sure who would enter this race when the prize is all the other drivers’ cars (which will most likely have to be unwrapped from various telephone poles) and the entire California Highway Patrol lies in wait to arrest all of the racers.
Anyway, Tobey gets a car staked by potential love interest Julia (Imogen Poots), assembles his crew, and proceeds to drive cross country, committing all manner of vehicular felonies and eluding what is apparently the only cop in Nebraska along the way.
I’m still trying to figure out how is it the police are on the scene to ticket me for an illegal turn into a McDonald’s parking lot, but the dude running school buses off the road by driving into oncoming traffic goes unnoticed.
There is barely anything redeemable going on in “Need for Speed” aside from fast cars and well-executed crashes, but that’s hardly an impediment to success. Surely millions of NASCAR fans can’t be wrong.
“Need for Speed” is rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity, and crude language.