Regardless of the final outcome, movies based of video game make a certain amount of sense. In most cases you have an already iconic character and a workable setting and concept already laid out for you so all you really have to to us figure out how to merge that to the art of filmmaking and you’re three quarters of the way there. But while first person shooters, third person platformers or side scrolling beat ’em ups usual come ready made, how on earth would you fashion a movie based on another genre – like, say a racing game?
This is the rather curious task that the filmmakers behind Need For Speed found themselves responsible for cracking, after all with driving games the plot is usually to win aaaaand that’s pretty much it – but if they could realise EA’s racing franchise, then maybe there was a chance to topple the fuel injected titan of modern day car movies: The Fast And Furious franchise…
Tobey Marshall is your typical type of cinematic racing prodigy, he’s monosyllabic, broody, runs an ailing garage with his buddy Pete and his loud, extroverted friends and can handle an automobile like Beethoven tinkling the ivories. Simply put, the man feels he has nothing to prove, but constant hyping from racing shock jock, the Monarch, rankles Marshall’s former rival Dino Brewster who coincidentally is now engaged to Tobey’s ex, Anita. Managing to put their differences aside for a short while, Dino commissions Tobey to complete the build of an extremely rare Ford Shelby Mustang, but is further enraged when our hero ignores instructions to get the car sold. As these guys seem to solve everything in their lives by revving engines and burning rubber, Dino demands a race with the winnings being enough to bail Tobey and Pete’s failing garage out of debt, but when it it looks like he’s going to lose, Dino rams the car of Pete, turning it from a multi million dollar super car to flaming wreckage in seconds and then promptly buggers off leaving Tobey to go to jail for a manslaughter charge.
Two years later, Tobey gets out of jail with revenge on his mind and plans to enter Monarch’s famous illegal race De Leon in order to take Dino for every penny he can. Bizarrely, he’s permitted to use the obscenely expensive Mustang he helped rebuild but on one condition, that he’s escorted to the race by english car broker Julia.
So Tobey, aided by his friends, has to get to to San Francisco in 45 hours before the race starts but that’s going to be iffy as he’s still on parole, plus complicating matters is Dino who is also competing and the douche puts out a hit that anyone who can stop Tobey getting to the starting line on time gets a Lamborghini. It’s all cars with these guys, I swear….
The first thing you notice about Need For Speed is how strangely sedate the whole film is. For a movie about time limits, races and cars that can do 230 mph, it doesn’t seem to have any sense of urgency whatsoever and the movie just saunters along, content to do things in it’s own time. Niw, this would be fine if the film was about, say, anything else but a mad dash to an illegal car race, but director Scott Waugh seems hellbent on trying to tap into that vein of slick, self-aware bombast that usually exploded from the stables of Jerry Bruckheimer during the nineties. But where The Rock, Con Air and fellow rubber burner Gone In 60 Seconds married the eccentric characters and slick action with a knowing tongue stuck in it’s grease-smeared cheek, Need For Speed simply takes itself a bit too seriously.
Aaron Paul, temporarily getting a respite from calling everyone a bitch as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, attempts to play Tobey as one of those unflappable heroes who is annoyingly casual about everything, but instead his performance comes across as if he’s been huffing petrol fumes before every take. In comparison Imogen Poots elects to go full hyper while using her real accent like a blunt object and villain Dominic Cooper sneers and glares his way through his scenes in a masterclass in “smell the fart” acting. It’s weird, because the cast contains a clutch of actors who usually put out enough charismatic energy to power a bullet train, but the leaden pace of the film just swallows some surprisingly familiar names whole. Michael Keaton’s manic podcasts as racing personality, Monarch is supposed to give the same kind of punctuation to scenes like those luscious lips announcing updates in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, but instead just come across as the ramblings of an old man trying to convince the audience to give a shit while others such as Rami Malek, Dakota Johnson and Kid Cudi forfil their ensemble duties before vanishing without a trace. The dialogue does admittedly contain some risable dialogue that’s certainly pushing in the right direction – “Never judge a girl by her Gucci boots!” and “Racers should race, cops should eat doughnuts!” are two noticable examples – but overall, matters are as furrowed as Aaron Paul’s predominant brow.
Still, the races are great, right? I mean, isn’t the director a former stuntman? Well, yes – and while there’s some decent crashes and the final race picks up the pace a little (would the police really try to stop an illegal car race by wedging down the accelerator on a cop car and sending into traffic?), on the whole, Need For Speed’s automotive antics are a little bit vanilla with the movie’s race scenes being overtaken left and right by other car chase flicks like Death Proof and, yes, whatever number the Fast and Furious movies were up to at the time.
It’s a shame, because Waugh obviously is trying to steer the car movie away from the cartoonish antics of the family worshiping Toretto clan by utilising less CGI and not dropping cars out of planes or have them fighting tanks – butvas a result he’s ended up with a car chase movie that’s forgotten the cardinal rule of the genre: Everything can go to hell as long as you make your damn chases exciting. Smokey And The Bandit knew it, Canonball Run knew it and Fast And The Furious certainly knows it and despite some cool chicanery with some low flying helicopters, Need For Speed ends up racing on four flat tyres.