Director: Scott Waugh; Screenwriter: George Gattins; Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson; Running time: 130 minutes; Certification: 12A
Do you feel the need? The need for Jesse Pinkman on the big screen? Of course you do. Off the back of the enormously successful and enormously brilliant Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul was always going to become something of a star. As opposed to his co-star Bryan Cranston, he was a considerably lesser known actor before the hit show but turned out to be so good as aforementioned Mr. Pinkman that he became one of the most memorable things about it. If Need For Speed, an adaptation of the hit video game series, is a step down in quality from Bad, it’s something of a perfect opening act for Paul’s leading role days: it’s silly, popcorny, unserious fun.
Certainly the film is best taken with a pinch of salt, for anyone approaching it even remotely analytically or within the confines of a ‘conventional’ critic is going to be hard-pressed to find things to praise. For starters the thing doesn’t make any sense: the plot drifts from first act set-up to second act road movie to third act showdown without ever really explaining anything along the way. The road movie section is particularly confusing, where for about an hour in the middle of the film our protagonist Tobey (Paul), a man on parole, takes a trip across country from New York to California with car-dealer Julia (Poots) beside him, drawing attention to himself ever step of the way with completely unnecessarily erratic driving. It goes on forever; every time they lose the cops they pull another stunt and start getting chased again. While something leads us to the impression that they’re doing it on purpose, we have no real idea why. Can’t they just drive normally and get there in one piece?
Likewise, how does Benny (one of Tobey’s crew members) keep popping up with different planes at helicopters at just the right time? Is nobody guarding these things? And how on earth does he get away with flying a helicopter low through a crowded city? Or when the big race occurs, why don’t the cops shut it down before they start instead of hopelessly chasing down ridiculously fast super cars in typical ‘cops don’t give a crap about destroying their cars’ Hollywood fashion? The answers are there are no answers. None. It makes no sense. But in some weird, guilty way, I found the film all the better for it. It absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. The darker aspects of the story, of course, play out rather conventionally, but when the action bursts in, the script (which, let’s be fair, isn’t a masterpiece) doesn’t bother trying to explain it; instead it just has fun and rolls with the punches. Such breeze with the tone makes all the ludicrousness and ridiculousness entertaining rather than laughable.
The race sequences themselves are actually really great. Like Rush, they plant the audience right in the moment. The revs of the engines and screeches of tires cut like a knife, and the lack of CGI really shines through. All of the car stunts were performed for real, and just like the opening sequence of The Dark Knight Rises or Inception’s spinning hallway, it gives them an extra oomph. It’s nice to see standard Hollywood fair, not just auters like Christopher Nolan, choosing the no CGI route.
With the odd dose of scenery chewing to bring life to a script not even remotely bordering on intelligence or complexity, Need For Speed would be very easy to laugh at, but in this age of cynicism and films like Die Hard 5, why not opt to have fun when you can and just laugh with it? Bitch.