In order to compete, Tobey and his crew, along with Julia (Imogen Poots), a rep for the owner of his high-performance Ford Mustang that Tobey will race, have to get across country in less than two days and with cops and bounty hunters out for them. Chases, crashes, and action ensue.
You don't feel a need for speed watching this. You feel a need for a harness. Unlike the Fast & Furious movies which make you feel the liberation and exhilaration of fast cars and stunts, Need For Speed makes you feel horrified and guilty for finding any pleasure in watching what's essentially Vehicular Homicide: The Movie.
Pretty much every character in this film is responsible for causing death or grievous bodily harm. The film boasts some truly outrageous "you are there" stunts and action cinematography, but they ultimately have the opposite of their intended effect. They generate more "That's horrifying!" reactions than "That's awesome!" ones. By the homestretch, Need for Speed feels like the snuff film of racing movies.
There's a subplot about a character proving their innocence that doesn't require the climactic race at all but just a call to the cops (several of whom are presumably killed or maimed in the ensuing race). It's a ridiculous subplot because it would mean that we live in a world without forensics, traffic cameras, or skid marks that would absolve the wrongly accused.
Aaron Paul does what he can to class things up, but he doesn't have writers like Vince Gilligan and Co. here to serve his considerable talent. Still, he -- along with Keaton's scenery-chewing, weird Wolfman Jack-meets-Death Race games keeper -- is the best and most human thing about the movie. The acting from the rest of the cast is pretty terrible. Poots' poorly-drawn character spends an hour in a car with Tobey and she's now willing to throw her whole life away on this parole jumper. She's also more grating than she is goofy-cute. And Dakota Johnson is wooden and forgettable as the hometown girl who got away. Who are these women? You have no idea. Not that the men are much more dimensional.
Most of the film's problems are all on paper. The film has some capable actors and an amazing stunt team, but the story makes no sense. Why does a character make the bad decision they do? Well, because the script needs to manufacture a dramatic beat that's why. And to hell with logic (not that we expected it to get an invite to this party anyway). But the movie asks its audience to root for heroes who let civilians get into crashes or let cops get maimed or burned alive in wrecks over some stupid race that doesn't ultimately serve a purpose.
Need for Speed is a dumb movie, and not a dumb funone. As far as video game movies go, Need for Speed is certainly not an unwatchable turd like Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li. That's because it's really less a video game movie than it is the next Torque or Biker Boyz. So it looks like it's up to Warcraft to be the video game movie that could finally elevate the genre.
- +Aaron Paul & Michael Keaton do what they can.
- +Some outrageous car stunts, but ...
- –... they don't entertain so much as they do horrify. Too realistic to be fun.
- –Bad script marked by thin characterizations, lame humor & lack of logic.
- –Ineffective supporting cast.