March 13, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Need For Speed”


NEED FOR SPEED:  Watch It At Home – Not Enough Fuel

If there was ever a movie that didn’t need to be over 2 hours long, the relatively unpretentious NEED FOR SPEED was it.  Action movies these days too often feel like they have to be epics, loaded with backstory and climactic showdowns that refuse to end, and the 130-minute Need falls into that trap, exhausting its tank of viewer interest before it reaches the finish line, despite some very enjoyable dumb thrills along the way.

Need For Speed is based on a series of successful videogames, and it’s at its best when it’s simply showing cars do impossible things.  The spirit of Hal Needham, director of Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper and The Cannonball Run, hangs heavy over Scott Waugh’s direction (like Needham, he’s a former stunt coordinator, who made his directing debut with last year’s faux-verite Navy Seal adventure Act of Valor) and George Gatins’s script.  When Waugh is filming cars being rescued via helicoptered air-lift, hopping over lane barriers and dodging one another at high speed on mountain roads, he’s on sure ground.  His storytelling is rustier.

It all begins with much more of a prologue than it needs, as we laboriously learn that ace driver and mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul, who will have the words Breaking Bad attached to his name for the foreseeable future) made the mistake of going into business with flashy, hateful Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) in their shared hometown of Mount Kisco, New York.  Dino hired Tobey to restore a legendary Mustang for a collector (Tobey took the job to pay off the debts on his dad’s garage), and then, all too predictably, doublecrossed Tobey and his friends with fatal results, the result being that Tobey ended up doing time.  All of this is merely to set the stage for the present-day action, which follows Tobey’s release from prison.

Naturally, he wants revenge, in the form of a victory over Dino at an illegal California race called the DeLeon, which is apparently run, and certainly narrated, by the hypercaffeinated Monarch (Michael Keaton, who spends the entire movie on a set isolated from all the other actors, his character perhaps meant as a reference to the DJ in The Warriors).  The DeLeon is the unofficial world’s championship for speed freaks, and if Tobey can win, he’ll not only have all the cred and take the valuable pink slips to Dino’s and the other drivers’ custom racecars, but he’ll conveniently tank Dino’s business.

There are, of course, some catches.  First, he’ll need a car–so isn’t he lucky that gorgeous car expert Julia Madden (Imogen Poots), is ready to supply him with that very same Mustang he was restoring, and only insists that she be his (remember, gorgeous) seatmate for the journey?  Second, in true Cannonball Run fashion, he has just over a day to get from Mount Kisco to the California starting line of the race, with the help of Julia and sidekicks Finn (Rami Malek), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and pilot Benny (Kid Cudi), who provides a high-tech version of the CB-radio help that anchored Smokey.  And third, Dino has put a bounty on Tobey’s head.

Between the lengthy prologue, the cross-country trip and the DeLeon itself, Need For Speed is trying to be a trilogy in one movie, and it’s all more than the picture can sustain.  By the time Need reaches the DeLeon, it starts to feel like a retread of itself.  Its tone is also uncertain, ranging from Smokey jocularity to Fast & the Furious swollen self-seriousness.  Gatins doesn’t supply much in the way of surprise, nor for that matter in the way of characters, and although Paul, Cooper and Poots have all shown elsewhere that they’re capable of excellent acting, here they’re just people who don’t wear seatbelts.

Nevertheless, there are pleasures to be had, when the actors stop talking and the cars take over the starring roles.  Shane Hurlbut’s photography and Waugh and Paul Robell’s editing can be sensationally effective in bits and pieces, and the stuntwork, it goes without saying, is outstanding.   But for all the effort and expense that went into these sequences, there’s never the sense of rising narrative momentum that propels the best of the Fast & the Furious installments, or even the much cheaper action scenes on TV’s Banshee.  After a while, the proficient but empty chases and stunts get repetitive and downright tiresome.

Need For Speed should have paid attention to its own title; half an hour shorter and more streamlined, it could have been a lot more fun.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."