“Need for Speed” is not a movie so much as an infomercial for the car racing video-game franchise of the same name. So don’t go expecting such niceties a plot, character or substance. If you go expecting car chases, crashes, flips, explosions and angry cops, then you’ll leave happy.
If you design an entire movie around stunts demanded by a video-game company, in this case EA Entertainment, then you must sacrifice any logic or character dynamics to the need on Page 15 to have a car flip in the air and explode or on Page 80 for a stunt involving a race car and military helicopter.
The fact that none of this makes any sense is irrelevant.
Probably the only real mistake made by the filmmakers — director and ex-stunt guy Scott Waugh and his writers George and John Gatlins — was to show on a TV screen a few clips from the famous car chase in “Bullitt” (1968). Why demonstrate what you’re incapable of doing — finding a place for car action amid real character and story developments?
In “Need for Speed” — an all-too-apt title as it turns out — character and story are driven (literally) by the need for vehicle stunts. While never boring — well, it is sometimes — why not just watch a crash reel or play the video game?
Here are the characters: “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul plays an auto repair shop owner and car engineer, who is out for vengeance after getting out of prison for a crime he did not commit. His character mostly scowls and drives like a maniac.
Dominic Cooper, the villain and real guilty party in the crime, is also a top race car driver. He actually dresses in black and sneers frequently. Imogen Poots is the heroine and her role consists of having a charming English accent.
One guy’s character is defined by the toothpick he talks through for the entire movie while another one spends the movie stealing various aircraft. In other words, everyone is one-note to the max.
Underground racing movies have existed for a long time, the most recent franchise being the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Those films, while no monument to cinematic excellence, carefully made sure to make no ringing endorsement of a sport that actually kills and maims many people each year.
“Need for Speed” can’t be bothered. You are actually meant to cheer and perhaps guffaw when the racers knock over the homeless and send ordinary drivers into terrible crashes. You are meant to feel contempt toward Highway Patrol officers, whose vehicles flip and explode trying to stop this carnage, since they’re hopeless killjoys getting deserved injuries and possibly fatalities.
“Need for Speed” is a flat, lifeless film that misses the pulpy fun of the “Fast and Furious” film by a mile.
Opens: March 14, 2014 (Walt Disney Studios)
Production companies: DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment present an Electronic Arts/Bandito Brothers/Mark Sourian/John Gatins production
Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Dakota Johnson
Director: Scott Waugh
Screenwriter: George Gatins
Story by: George Gatins, John Gatins
Based on the video game by: Eletronic Arts
Producers: John Gatins, Patrick O’Brien, Mark Sourian
Executive producers: Stuart Besser, Scott Waugh, Max Leitman, Frank Gibeau, Patrick Soderlund, Tim Moore
Director of photography: Shane Hurlbut
Production designer: Jon Hutman
Costume designer: Ellen Mirojnick
Editor: Oaul Rubell, Scott Waugh
Music: Nathan Furst
PG-13 rating, 130 minutes