Need for Speed (2014)

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“Racing is an art.”

Need for Speed is an enjoyably unnecessary film. I can’t imagine very many people played the popular game and thought to themselves, “This would make an awesome movie.” The strange thing is, the movie actually works. It’s by the book storytelling surrounded by insane set pieces and distinctly video game inspired visuals. Story problems, lack of background description, and some really hokey dialogue keep this from rising above mediocrity. You’ll feel like you’re watching a lesser version of a Fast and Furious movie, but you won’t come away any less entertained or exhilarated by the truly remarkable driving sequences.

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Resting in the outskirts of busy New York City life is Marshall Motors. It’s a body shop spearheaded by Tobey (Aaron Paul) with a crew of buddies. The shop was his dad’s, and through early exposition we find out the father has passed away. Tobey is a bit of a ghost. He’s an otherwordly driver who steps back into the shadows in order to keep his dad’s legacy intact. That’s when a banker visits, informing him that the shop is in jeopardy of being shutdown.

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A bit too conveniently, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes back into town. He’s an Indy car driver and has an obvious past with Tobey, although it’s never developed enough. A street race happens because, well, that’s what happens in a movie like this. Dino’s impressed and sends a rare Mustang to the shop to be fixed. The crew says there’s no way they will work for such a scumbag. Tobey pleads…they need the money.

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After a pivotal plot point (which I won’t say but you will surely see coming), Tobey is out for revenge against Dino. He’s wrongfully accused after an accident while Dino remains free, and that doesn’t sit well with our main player. Everything builds towards the De Leon, a winner-takes-all race hosted by the Monarch (Michael Keaton). Like the fast cars in the movie, the story never slows down, conveniently but nicely falling into place at all of the right moments.

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I’m afraid that Paul is beginning to be typecast as the nice guy with anger boiling beneath his skin. It’s hard not to love him. As an audience, you can tell he’s genuinely a good guy off the screen, and he is so damn charismatic. Yet here his delivery is weak and doesn’t bring any multidimensional aspects to the character. I was impressed by Cooper as the villain though. Memorable bad guys have something in common with the good guy that makes it hard to root against, and the performance makes you wonder if he is pure evil or just accidentally nefarious. Imogen Poots steals the movie as Laura, the employee of the wealthy car owner buying the rare Shelby Mustang. She is equals parts funny, captivating, and stunningly gorgeous as she shines in every scene she is in.

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Not until I watched the DVD extras did I realize that Steven Spielberg is the head of Dreamworks, the company that produced the film. Their interest came from director Scott Waugh’s insistence on shooting as much live action as possible. It’s clear there is little CGI, and the results are outstanding. His direction and the camera choice feel like a game but never lacks the cinematic scope required to translate to the big screen. Still, the script is average and lacks any semblance of a backstory at all. Need for Speed is the kind of film that, had it been more finely honed and tuned, could have stood out as an excellent blockbuster. Instead we get a fun movie that does doughnuts around the story at hand, all too eager to pull the parking brake and drift away from finding any emotional resonance.

“Racing is an art.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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