09th Mar2014

‘Need for Speed’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi), Dakota Johnson, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Rami Malek, Sir Maejor, Nick Chinlund, Carmela Zumbado | Written by George Gatins | Directed by Scott Waugh

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I approached Need for Speed with all the enthusiasm you might expect of a recent Breaking Bad convert who, having binged his way through the whole series, is desperate for another fix. Given his character’s denouement in the show, it’s perhaps rather fitting that Aaron Paul’s new project is a film about people driving very fast cars.

Paul plays Tobey, a mechanic who also enjoys illegal street racing (but then who doesn’t?). After one such illegal street race with a rival – Dominic Cooper’s slimy Dino – goes bad, Tobey is wrongly sent to the big house. Well, he was driving an illegal car at illegal speeds, putting himself and others in danger, but he doesn’t do the crime he is actually sent to prison for and Dino gets away with something much worse. On his release, Tobey seeks to exact his revenge on Dino the only way he knows how – by beating him in an illegal street race. Clearly the US prison system needs to work on its ability to reform characters.

Helping Tobey along the way are his mechanic friends played by Kid Cudi, Ramon Rodriguez, and Rami Malek, whilst Imogen Poots (who will soon star alongside Paul again in Nick Hornby adaptation A Long Way Down) plays car expert/minder/love interest Julia and Michael Keaton gives decent turn as a mysterious internet man who organises some of the more prestigious illegal street races.

Films based on video games aren’t generally renowned for their outstanding qualities and whilst Need for Speed doesn’t turn this notion on its head, it delivers dumb fun in consistent and generous measures. It’s also fairly humorous though rarely in a self-aware way or at its own expense, which is fairly staggering given how frequently there are lapses in logical consistency that could only be deliberately ridiculous. I guess the idea of the film is that it should move fast enough for you not to stop and ask ‘why?’

Of course the real reason we’re here is to watch some really expensive cars tear around at very high speeds and to its credit, the film nails this. The races and chases are visually brilliant and well constructed and directed. There are some impressive stunts, made all the more so by the general lack of apparent CGI. As someone that knows next to nothing about cars (apart from how to drive one), I’m ill-placed to suggest how accurate or impressive the characters’ descriptions of their automobiles really are, but if you’re looking for a film where people talk about horsepower and torque and exhaust pipes and whatnot in a manner that I gather I should be impressed by, then Need for Speed certainly ticks that box.

Gross stupidity aside, my only other concern with the film was some rather slight characterisation. Tobey’s team are fairly uninteresting and the comic relief character is a total misfire as Kid Cudi is just painfully unfunny. Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul are both decent enough in isolation but I wasn’t particularly convinced by their screen chemistry.

Need for Speed is a decent enough action B-movie and it strikes me as highly unlikely that many people who choose to watch it of their own volition are going to walk away particularly disappointed. As a fan of Paul’s work in Breaking Bad however, I was hoping for a little more from him though. Need for Speed is a safe choice, but given the extent of his abilities – arguably Jesse Pinkman is a more demanding role than Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Paul performed it with considerable aplomb – I was hoping for something a little more interesting from a talent such as his.

Need For Speed is released across the UK on Wednesday March 12th.

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