Sunday, 23 March 2014

Film Review: Need for Speed

A video-game adaptation of a popular racing sim with next to no plot? Sounds promising. Thankfully, Need for Speed, which stars Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots, is actually pretty darn good. 

Need for Speed defies logic. Not because the stunts are unbelievable or because the plot is ludicrous; it defies logic because films based on video games are never as much as fun as this one.

Based loosely (as in, it shares the title) on the massively popular franchise of arcade/sim racing games, Need for Speed stars Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as Toby Marshall, a gifted racing driver who is wrongly convicted of manslaughter after a street race claims the life of a friend.

After spending his time in prison, Toby is driven (heh) to wreak havoc on the man responsible, a slimy ex-racing hero Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) as they compete in a high-stakes underground race with a prize money of millions.

Toby, with the cops hot on his heels, must make his way from New York to California in 45 hours if he has any hope of reaching the start line - and even then, the race is only just beginning.

First off, let's assess what everyone goes into a film like this keen to see; kick-ass cars and tyre-squealing racing. Thankfully, Need for Speed is a classic, 1970's Bullitt style racer that consciously makes an effort to be as much fun as possible. In fact, the film makes a point to tip its hat to the iconic Steve McQueen thriller more than once - just keep your eyes peeled.

Whether its pitting three identical Swedish Koenigsegg's up against each other on a highway or catapulting a Ford Mustang across a three-lane freeway, director Scott Waugh (Act of Valour) handles the stuntwork with flawless execution. Using minimal VFX techniques, Waugh puts together a series of escalating set-pieces that will set pulses racing. I think the foreknowledge that the film intentionally uses as little VFX as possible added to the appeal; knowing that the stunts are as real as they can get is great fun. This isn't any usual Hollywood blockbuster green-screen crap, it's classic Hollywood stuntwork which will make your eyes pop out of your head.

Plus, Waugh's direction and framing of these sequences is superb. In addition to the rapid editing, Waugh plays around with conventional shots and fun, first-person video-game type shots that put the audience in the driving seat. They're brief (not like Doom's several minute long FPS shot), but still a whole lot of fun that mix things up.

In terms of acting, Aaron Paul plays a strong silent type, not unlike Ryan Gosling in Drive. He does bring a certain amount of charisma to the table, but his character is inherently written thinly. Nevertheless, still a passable first lead role for the young actor. He was solid, if unspectacular.

Imogen Poots plays an oddly kooky English lass who is sat alongside Paul during the drive to California. Her character is fun, but much like everybody else in the film, annoyingly two-dimensional. She obviously fills the 'love interest' void, with Scott Mescudi occupying the sassy black-guy/comic relief category, and Ramon Rodriguez and Rami Malek completing Aaron Paul's entertaining posse of mechanics and accessories.

Michael Keaton pops up as nothing more than a glorified race commentator/exposition device. Like Sam Jackson in last month's Robocop reboot, Keaton shares the screen with essentially nobody throughout the entire film, speaking through an odd live-Skype call type screen that serves as a very lazy and unsatisfying narrative device.

Dominic Cooper (best known for playing Howard Stark in the Marvel Universe) sticks out as a satisfyingly menacing and slimy villain. His rivalry with Toby in the lead-up to, and during the race, may be thin, cartoonish fare, but it is still entertaining.

Another downside with the film is the often clunky dialogue and mediocre scripting. Funny quips from Scott Mescudi aside, the rest of dialogue was kind of flat and uninteresting. Along with the cookie-cutter characters, these elements make Need for Speed a wholly superficial and blood-pumping thrill-ride that lacks in substance underneath.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Need for Speed is noisy, ridiculous, cheesy, OTT and bundles of fun. The direction is slick, the action is quick and the stunts are eye-popping. Paul, Cooper and Poots are a good enough lead trio, and rev-heads who get a kick out of seeing hot European super-cars going wheel-to-wheel will have an absolute ball. Well worth the ticket price, if your willing to sit back and enjoy the ride.


  1. Nice review. I'm right there with you, I thought this movie was a blast! Totally don't understand the hate this one's getting. However, I will say that there were quite a few times where it almost did resemble several of the games in the series, so even as an adaptation it stays surprisingly true to the spirit of the source material, which was really probably the biggest shocker to me.

    1. Well said mate! :) I liked the various nods to the games also, glad they threw them in there. You never know, this one might do well enough for a sequel?

  2. The racing sequences are the best thing about the movie, as Waugh & Co. eschew over-the-top computer generated mayhem for practical car stunts, which give these scenes a certain amount of verve and heft.

    1. Yeah, the stuntwork was amazing! It's always a good thing when a film goes out of its way to use practical effects and choreography. Thanks for commenting Thomas! :)



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