By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A title that rhymes, huh? Well, two can play at this game:
The movie is called Need for Speed.
It is not aimed at people who read.
You had better love cars
‘Cause they’re really the stars
Of this shallow high-octane misdeed.
Okay, it’s out of my system.
If speed is all you need, then maybe Need for Speed will do it for you.
But if you demand any other production values from a movie –- depth, wit, ambition, sophistication, internal logic, acting prowess, suspension of disbelief, or three-dimensional characters -– you’re driving in the wrong lane.
Need for Speed, an intended franchise kick-starter, is a generic action thriller adapted from the wildly popular “Need for Speed” series of racing video games by Electronic Arts. Now if that doesn’t send up a red flag, nothing does.
Aaron Paul (best known for the television series “Breaking Bad”) stars as Tobey Marshall, a car mechanic in the tiny village of Mt. Kisco, NY. He’s certainly the best driver around, but instead of turning professional he has stayed at home to run his father’s mechanic shop with four of his buddies.
Dominic Cooper plays Dino Brewster, a racing rival of Tobey’s ever since high school who has turned pro as a Nascar driver. Dino — ever worried that Tobey is the superior driver even though his accomplishments on paper indicate otherwise — turns up with a suspiciously lucrative offer for Tobey and his friends: he wants them to restore a Ford Mustang worth $2 million, for which they will get 25 percent as a commission.
Tobey would rather have nothing to do with Brewster, but, given how far behind in mortgage payments and how deeply in debt the garage is, he reluctantly agrees.
Furthermore, he agrees to Brewster’s winner-take-all suggestion with regard to the commission money.
Then, during the race, things get out of hand and Tobey is framed and arrested for the federal crime of vehicular manslaughter, the victim of which is one of his friends.
It will be two years before he gets out of prison, intent on clearing his name and getting his garage back. And how will he do that? By entering a huge California street race, of course, a major event called the DeLeon, an underground winner-take-all supercar competition run by a mysterious being known as The Monarch, an influential shock jock played by Michael Keaton.
That means that Tobey, with a bounty on his head issued by Brewster and plenty of cops on his tail, has just two days to get himself and his loyal crew from New York to San Francisco for a cross-country race that will allow him to avenge the death of a friend.
Imogen Poots is Julia, a British car broker who finds appropriately high-end vehicles for her wealthy customers and who becomes an important ally of Tobey’s. And maybe something more.
Behind the wheel is director Scott Waugh (2012’s Act of Valor), coming from a background as a stuntman, who works from a plot-holes-you-could-drive-a-truck-through script by George Gatins that offers this glorified but not glorious video game as a Fast and the Furious derivative, with recklessly irresponsible (not to mention impossible) driving stunts and car chases its wearying stock-in-trade.
Waugh, mostly directing traffic, acknowledges the stunt-celebrating influence of the ultimate cameras-mounted-on-the-hood flick, Bullitt, by referencing and including it and then sticking to its guns (that is, cars) by pretty much ignoring CGI technology and actually staging all the car chases and races.
But there are so many of them, each one loses a measure of impact. Surely one or two of them could have been trimmed or cut so that the film could reduce its running time to under a seemingly interminable two hours.
Neither agreeable hero Paul nor mustache-twirling villain Cooper come off very well, but it’s tough to assign blame to performers saddled with dialogue this creaky and disposable. Let’s just say that they do a lot more driving than acting.
So we’ll rev it up to 2 stars out of 4. Employing vehicular manslaughter as a plot point, Need for Speed nearly commits vehicular movie-slaughter.
In other words, just because it’s fast doesn’t stop us from feeling furious.