Need for Speed Full of Thrills
“Need for Speed,” an adaptation of the popular street racing video game series by EA, is a film that positively stands out among the throngs of other racing-themed movies through its fresh and talented cast, a strong linear story, and action sequences that you cannot look away from.
Director Scott Waugh, whose last film was the grittily realistic “Act of Valor,” channels similar first-person filming techniques throughout the rubber-burning, white-knuckle action sequences as were showcased in the combat sequences of “Valor.” While I am by no means a fan of the recent inundation with 3D use in films, “Need for Speed” employs them in a way that not only pays homage to the video game from which it stems, but adds an element of added suspense to already gripping racing scenes.
The cast in “Need for Speed” is, without question, highlighted by lead role Aaron Paul (who gained worldwide notoriety as Jesse from AMC’s “Breaking Bad”). Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a small New York town auto mechanic and racing prodigy who never broke into the big show of competition, but continuously outmatches opponents in illegal street racing. He makes his living with his four best friends running a car garage that his father once owned.
Tobey and his friends are asked by the movie’s antagonist (Tobey’s rival and total slime ball) Dino Brewster to modify a famous Mustang which he will then sell to a billionaire car aficionado. Tobey only accepts the offer because he needs to money to save the failing garage from being seized by the bank. We are introduced to Paul’s female co-lead Imogen Poots (“28 Weeks Later”) at the Mustang’s auction. She plays Julia, the daughter of the billionaire who eventually buys the supercar.
Tobey is caught up in a heap of trouble when a race, with one of his best friends Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) and Dino, ends disastrously. Tobey is the one who is caught and sentenced to jail time, while Dino flees the scene. Upon Tobey’s release two years later, he immediately contacts his friend Benny (Scott Mescudi), a former military pilot who scouts for Tobey from an old Cessna plane, to find Dino.
The first step is to re-acquire the famed Shelby-Mustang in order to get to California for the most high-profile illegal street race in the country, which is propagated by a seemingly omnipotent presence known only as “The Monarch” (played exquisitely by Michael Keaton). Tobey does not know the precise location of the race, as only those invited by The Monarch are given the details, but hopes that he will gain his attention and an invite during his cross-country adventure.
Tobey is forced to take on Julia as his passenger, as she will not grant him access to the car if she is left behind. I was concerned that Poots’ character would suffer from weakness and insignificance given her entitled background and importance mainly as a plot device, but Waugh artfully reveals that Julia has many layers extending much deeper than her outward appearance. “Don’t judge a girl by her Gucci shoes,” to quote Julia.
I won’t spoil the bigger highlights of the cross-country journey, but it is ripe with twists, excellent suspense, tenderness, and certainly more than a few moments that suspend reality and even basic common sense (but always to a degree that added to the fun, rather than generating exhausted eye-rolls). One scene in particular, when coupled with 3D technology, made my stomach drop to my feet in an incredible “Well, I haven’t seen that before” moment.
Tobey’s friends are refreshing comic relief characters that add colorful and funny dialogue while never trying to steal the spotlight for long, which is essential to the fast-paced movement of the plot. It was refreshing to see a director not attempt to delve into the backstory of every single character who has more than a few lines.
I found Paul’s performance to be more than solid. I may be entirely biased because of how much of a gushing fan of “Breaking Bad” I am, but he seems to simply be a talented actor who can hit on a wide range of emotions. One tragic scene showcased Paul’s ability to capture a moment of total loss and disbelief, and to me was reminiscent of the anguish we saw Jesse go through in the final season of “Breaking Bad.”
Overall, “Need for Speed” was an action-packed, beautifully shot adrenaline ride filled with very fast, very rare cars and a cast of somewhat unheard of yet very effective actors. I would also like to applaud Waugh for going the extra mile and training his actors to actually drive the cars, instead of choosing the lazier and cheesier road of computer animations. I recommend this film for fans of Aaron Paul, the Need for Speed video game franchise, car and racing nuts, and absolutely anyone who enjoys a good action movie.