Movie Review: 'Need for Speed' (2014)

A vacuous affair that fails to put the pedal to the metal; “Need for Speed” never shifts into appropriate gear as either a drama or a popcorn race flick. Taking itself too seriously to be written off as camp and too hammy to be taken seriously, the film levitates between the two possible narratives in loony fashion. Where to begin?

There are the plot holes large enough for a giant rig to go through, the plotline in general or the all over the map performances. Until seeing this movie can one truly appreciate how nice the “Fast and the Furious” films are and how rare it is to achieve what that franchise has accomplished.

Based off of a video game (that’s your first clue), the story follows grease-hipster Toby (Aaron Paul) and his buddies as they bromance their way through adversity. The storyline continually alternates. At first it’s about a guy trying to raise funds for his financially strapped family garage. Note: They do have the funds for a splashy video game console and entertainment zone within the confines of the garage.

Then the film moves to a revenge drama, a poorly structured one in which the angsty Toby is far from blameless. Then it’s a road movie akin to Charlie Sheen’s “The Chase” minus that film’s hat tip to its obvious camp. In its last stage it is a race drama with shades of a downtrodden sports epic similar to “Rocky” as underdog Toby must surmount the impossible to win one for Little Pete (long story).

As the film’s fragmented narrative scurries in several directions, its consistent absence of plot symmetry and sensical reasoning are tossed out of the window. Why can’t Toby ship the car to the desired locale? Why does he nearly wreck the car in a “Dukes of Hazard” jump? Why does he pointlessly circle around a gas station, looping for no navigation purpose? How can he re-fuel a high performance vehicle at a regular station?

Why does he need his friends, besides the pilot, to help him with any of this? Why does “the best driver ever” need to cheat in a street race with his own private flying GPS? How is a truck able to outrun and maneuver a high-performance racecar? Why is Michael Keaton’s podcaster character salivating over Toby and referring to him as “beauty”? All of these questions and more negatively permeate the viewing experience.

Imogen Poots is the sole redeeming force amongst the horror of this film. Her sophistication radiates throughout the film’s duration and she brings ample energy to the road weary storyline. Poots is a true bright spot and she makes the film worthwhile.

Elsewhere, Dominic Cooper is underutilized, wasted as the mustache twirling villain at the beginning of the film before transforming into a moodily remorseful bad guy. Aaron Paul’s serious and teary performance lies in stark contrast to the overall cartoonish nature of the film, jarring as a result. Scott Mescudi attempts to infuse the film with humor as the wise-cracking Benny and he achieves some success.

The script, as with everything else, strains heavily under its forced comedy. One such instance of forced “hilarity” is a striptease sequence in which one of Toby’s pals quits his job; flashes his co-workers and in the nude, forces a kiss on one of them. How this is remotely funny, boggles the mind.

Video game films have been, to this point, pretty consistent disasters and “Need for Speed” doesn’t break that tradition. At 2 hours and 12 minutes, the film limps to the finish line, a convoluted garble of muscle cars destined for destruction and a disturbing moral to its story. While a controversial aspect of any movie in this genre, street racing is particularly glorified here.

Police officers are injured and presumably killed, citizens are presumably injured and their property, pointlessly damaged. During one of the moral low points, Toby and his friends laugh as they destroy a homeless man’s cart during a race. As the man cries out saying his home has been ruined, Toby and his crew cruelly snicker.

How is Toby, any better than his nemesis? He endangers people, belittles them and is responsible for presumable deaths. He’s a different side of the same coin. Rooting for him as other characters in the film do is glaringly problematic. Making matters worse he only serves a couple of months in prison after incurring such deadly bedlam. In short, there are no long-term consequences.

Stuck in a perpetual overdrive of absurdity, “Need for Speed” is an unmitigated gush of superficial oblivion. There is also a strong likelihood that it will end up amongst the pantheon of cult classics, a fate almost as frustrating to contemplate as watching this film. Rating: 3.4/10

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