Important tip: If the word “speed” is in the title of the movie, don’t make it over two hours long. And especially, don’t make it feel even longer than that.
Clearly going for the “Fast and Furious” vibe with a side order of “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Need for Speed” tries to capitalize on the buzz around newly graduated “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul. But it has no idea of how to use him. Paul is a talented actor and an appealing performer but he is not up to the particular demands of a dumb chases and explosions movie. This is probably to his credit. Unfortunately, it is not to the movie’s. The cars are fast and pretty and the stunts are impressive. But when it comes to the script, it just spins its wheels.
Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a decent guy in financial trouble following the death of his father. He needs money to keep the family garage going, and the only way he can make it is by street racing. He and his wisecracking but devoted Benetton ad of a pit crew/posse/A Team are, of course, the best of the best, all wisecracking and womb to tomb and such. But Tobey tangles with arrogant professional race car driver Dino (a glowering Dominic Cooper), not just a racing rival but a romantic one as well. Dino is after Tobey’s former girlfriend, Anita (future “50 Shades of Gray” spankee Dakota Johnson), as much to spite Tobey, apparently, as for any feelings of affection or regard for Anita herself. Why she is with him, we never understand.
But then, there is not much in this movie that makes sense. It’s all about the races and chases and the very fancy cars that are 3/4 rocket and worth zillions of dollars. That would be fine, but first-time writer George Gatins keeps trying to put a story around the chases to make us more invested in the outcome and the details are just so dumb and inconsistent that it has the opposite effect. The script does to this movie what a blown tire does to a race car rounding the corner, and it ain’t pretty.
After a fatal accident, Dino frames Tobey, who goes to prison for manslaughter for two years. When he comes out, he really really really wants to beat Dino for the same reasons as before but more so. To recap: he is arrogant and mean, he was responsible for the accident and made Tobey take the rap, and that Anita thing is still going on, plus Tobey still needs money to buy the old garage out of foreclosure. It turns out there is — say it with me now — one really big race coming up. This is the ultra-secret, invitation-only race organized by eccentric rich guy and former racer Monarch (Michael Keaton, literally phoning it in). In order to get the car to the race, Tobey will have to drive it across the country in just 45 hours. And in order to get the car he needs, he will need to bring along snooty British car expert Frog, I mean Julia (Imogen Poots). He’ll need to get the band back together (actors who deserve better: hip-hop artist Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi, along with Rami Malek and Ramon Rodriguez). Mescudi plays a literal wing-man, stealing aircraft of one kind and another to let Tobey know where the cops are, and, since they are doing all of this on major streets and highways, where the traffic may present a problem.
It’s all hijinks and high spirits, but the romantic pairing never clicks and the banter is lifeless. As the crashes mount up, it becomes increasingly hard to overlook the carnage and carelessness of the characters we are supposed to be rooting for. There is still too much substance inherent in even the slightest of narratives that makes the crashing of a cop car more disturbing on screen than it might be in a game. The stunts are capably staged but some are taken from better movies — there are even references to “Bullitt” and “Speed” which just point up this one’s inferiority. The filmmakers have emphasized that the stunts here are real, not CGI, and the 3D effects are excellent. But the only speed you are likely to need is the fast switch to a better film.
Parents should know that this film includes a lot of reckless and illegal behavior and extended mayhem including many car crashes and explosions, characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, strong and crude language, and male rear nudity.
Family discussion: What made Tobey and his team so loyal to one another? What changed his mind about Julia? Which car was the coolest?
If you like this, try: the “Fast and Furious” series