Film Review: 'Need for Speed'

Once again, that potentially lucrative and creative synergy between the gaming world and action cinema falls considerably short with the release of Scott Waugh's Need for Speed (2014), a particularly lunkheaded adaptation of the phenomenally popular EA racer series. Gravity-defying motor porn exploits take pole position over plot and everything else, despite some admittedly thrilling in-camera stunt work. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul is Tobey Marshall, a talented driver and proficient mechanic whose business is teetering on the breadline, threatening both his livelihood and his brotherly band of pin-up 'N Sync-lookalike grease monkeys.

Forced to build a sports car for rival Dino Alonzo (Dominic Cooper), it all ends in tears for Marshall when he's charged with manslaughter after a race goes tragically awry. Upon release from prison, a chance to clear his name and a shot at redemption comes in the form of an unlawful but highly prestigious West Coast race, orchestrated by a wealthy car nut (Michael Keaton). Paired with a beautiful babysitter for the car he's managed to acquire (Imogen Poots), Marshall sets off cross-country with the law, bounty hunters and his trusted buddies in tow. As was the case with debut feature Act of Valor (2012), Waugh's former profession as a leading Hollywood stuntman shines through in the many action and racing scenes.

The superbly-choreographed car chases have a wonderful visceral quality, jettisoning any obvious traces of CGI and relying on good old-fashioned physical stunts. It's a shame that same attention wasn't given to the rest of the film, which hangs together by the limpest of plots, chock-full of story inconsistencies and preposterous moments of character 'development'. With a name like Need for Speed, subtlety was never going to be a key selling point, but the freewheeling pomposity runs out of fuel a good hour or some before its painfully predictable finale, eliciting a number of unintentional moments of hilarity along the way.

Paul makes a decent grab for leading man status, but he's faced with an uphill struggle in the form of a clich├ęd script and the ridiculous and idiotic choices his character makes. Poots goes for the quirky Brit abroad and fails, but the worst offender here is online race commentator Keaton on ham overload and ad-libbing as he jabbers exposition and reassures the audience that everything will be neatly tied up at the end. Need for Speed will of course draw in the type of pubescent, petrolheaded gamer crowd it so obviously craves, but even they may find themselves fidgeting and growing bored of what's on offer.

Adam Lowes


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