‘Need For Speed’ Review
There are 35,000 deaths due to motor vehicle accidents in the United States each year. Every ten seconds someone is given emergency treatment because of a car crash. According to a report by the CDC the financial impact is close to $100 billion on injury care and lost productivity.
I know 'Need For Speed' is just a movie, and movies are entertainment, but it is shocking beyond all reason how much this movie thinks automotive safety is a big joke. I understand loving an outlaw, but when 'Bonnie & Clyde' robbed banks they were “punching up.” When Aaron Paul and his merry band of mayhem mechanics destroy public works and send innocent bystanders careening off of highways, they are “punching down.” 'Need For Speed,' its producers, writers, director and maybe even its stars should all hang their heads in shame.
Some well-photographed stunts aside, the movie is also truly idiotic in addition to being irresponsible. Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall and he's the best mechanic/racer there is. He and his grease monkey pals hang out in an upstate New York garage. When they aren't lightly dissing one another or playing video games or holding on to a bass guitar like the awkwardly-placed prop that it is, they engage in illegal street races, nearly killing innocent citizens in their sleepy town. Dominic Cooper is Dino, the local rich jerk whose uncle owns a dealership for cars so modern they look like the ones Woody Allen drove in 'Sleeper.'
Tobey and Dino agree to work together, building and then selling a souped-up muscle car to a collector. When a woman enters the picture (Imogen Poots who is blonde, British and knowledgeable about horsepower) a diss-match begins. Dino takes out his uncle's cars and challenges Tobey to a race. Tobey's Bieber-esque sidekick Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) joins in too and, after terrorizing people just trying to get to work or bring their kids to the doctor, Pete ends up dying in a fiery wreck.
Tobey does some jail time but Dino was able to speed off and cover his tracks. (Tobey was busy shouting “Noooooooo!” at the sky in slow motion.) After a few years in prison the time is now to prove his innocence and get his revenge on Dino...by beating him in a secret street race that is broadcast over the Internet and organized by Michael Keaton.
There are a lot of absurd things at play here. The first stems from the demand for a villain. Despite the fact that Pete was a grown man who should have been responsible for his own actions, Tobey projects all the culpability of his death on Dino because he “drove dirty” and didn't stay around when the cops came. The story beats play out as if Dino took a gun and shot him, but this isn't the case. Pete died because he treated a car like a toy. He knew the risks and he behaved like a criminal and paid the price. But the movie won't work with this narrative, so it shifts the blame and, in doing so, becomes the most strikingly unethical motion picture released by a major studio in quite some time.
Then there's Michael Keaton's secret race. Apparently, everyone who fixes a car in a garage also owns a state-of-the-art tablet and can access a password protected stream that never has any buffering problems. Keaton, who clearly shot all of his scenes in about a day-and-a-half, is like a one-man Greek chorus throughout the bulk of the film, and from his perch behind his Skype cam he comments on all of the illegal racing that is happening beneath the noses of America's highway patrolmen and squares.
Much of the movie's run time, actually, is just Tobey getting to the race. Dino orders something of a hit on him, sending other car maniacs on his tail, not unlike 'The Warriors.' This makes for a few smashy-smashy scenes that, yes, feature some dynamite camera work. It gets incredibly boring after a while, as these are whiz-bang 'X-Games'-like shots, not artfully composed frames (but each of these sequences on their own are, admittedly, impressive from a practical point of view).
Unimpressive, though, is just how lifeless and rote the whole production is. The dialogue is atrocious. One would-be emotional moment (“I need a car!”) was rebuked by peals of laughter at my screening. Aaron Paul's sole talent is having a young babyface and an unexpectedly deep voice. His teammates make sexist comments and one is even shown engaging in hardcore sexual harassment while at work. And somehow they all keep meeting Paul at checkpoints cross-country even though he is the one in the fastest car. How the hell did they get there? Lastly, and most upsettingly, Michael Keaton doesn't even go Nicolas Cage with his wacky dialogue. His involvement is an embarrassment for all involved.
I hated this movie. The worst of the 'Fast and the Furious' films (either the '2 Fast 2 Furious' or 'Tokyo Drift', depending on the day) is a masterpiece compared to this. Turn the wheel and head in the other direction.
'Need For Speed' opens in theaters on March 14.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.