Need for Speed

Posted by Joel Copling on March 14, 2014

There really is no need--no need to see "Need for Speed"--but if one must, one should be aware that this is movie in which cars are driven swiftly and many dangerous flips of those cars are to be had. It might seem an obvious point to make for what is positioned to be a new iteration of the "Fast/Furious" franchise, but even in the most dramatically involving sequence of the entire film, swiftly-moving vehicles are the only thing that "Need for Speed" offers in the way of entertainment. Even as a star vehicle for a post-"Breaking Bad" Aaron Paul, it is strikingly forgettable, more memorable for co-star Imogen Poots on an actorly basis. Otherwise, here is a morally questionable action-thriller whose action doesn't even thrill. "The Fast and the Furious 7" has come early, it seems. Not even Shane Hurlbut's sleek cinematography or Scott Waugh's generally capable direction stymie the feeling that this has been done far better before.

Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, apparently something of a legend on the racing circuit, whose father has died and whose auto shop is on the brink of foreclosure. A high-school tiff with Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper)--whose rivalry with Tobey is frustrating never explained, though the implication is that Dino's girl, Anita (Dakota Johnson), was once perhaps Tobey's--turns deadly when the two battle it out behind the wheel and fellow participant Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), who happens to be Anita's younger brother, dies in a fiery car wreck. Real culprit Dino pins the crime on Tobey, who serves two years in prison for manslaughter, which sparks a rivalry that can obviously be fixed by facing each other in the De Leon, a street-racing competition headed by the secretive Monarch (a wasted, annoying Michael Keaton) that apparently exists in an alternate, lawless version of real life.

The sense of irresponsible macho-posturing in "Need for Speed" is utterly pervasive. Indeed, the only subplot to which it does not extend is the romantic one, with British, blonde auto-enthusiast Julia Maddon (Poots) tagging along for no reason other than to provide Tobey with a romantic subplot. Poots' performance, though, is so much better than the material given to her that she almost makes it work. But that Tobey and Dino's central quarrel begins and ends via street-racing is a sign that screenwriter George Gatins has missed the point entirely. Sure, this is a movie in which audiences want to see cars zoom through the streets, but this is just the irresponsible and, ultimately, soulless message by the end: A little jail time and a lot of police-car pileups are worth it if one's machismo and empty vengeance are satisfied. "Need for Smarts" would have been a more forthright title.

Film Information

Aaron Paul (Tobey Marshall), Dominic Cooper (Dino Brewster), Imogen Poots (Julia Maddon), Scott Mescudi (Benny), Rami Malek (Finn), Ramon Rodriguez (Joe Peck), Harrison Gilbertson (Little Pete), Dakota Johnson (Anita), Stevie Ray Dallimore (Bill Ingram), Michael Keaton (Monarch), Alan Pflueger (Flyin' Hawaiian), Brian L. Keaulana (Right Seater), Logan Holladay ("DJ" Joseph), Carmela Zumbado (Jeny "B"), Jalil Jay Lynch (Jimmy MacIntosh), Nick Chinlund (Officer Lejeune), Chad Randall (Big Al).

Directed by Scott Waugh and written by George Gatins.

Rated PG-13 (reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity, crude language).

130 minutes.

Released on March 14, 2014.