Exhilarating, yet at times, unsettling, DreamWorks’ NEED FOR SPEED races into theaters this weekend, the latest videogame to make the transition from console to screen, amounting to a film that’s more “inspired by” the source material, than any kind of direct adaptation.
Here we find BREAKING BAD‘s Aaron Paul [Note: I may be one of five people that have never seen an episode of that show] taking the wheel as Tobey Marshall, a down-on-his-luck mechanic and street racer that makes some bad decisions to save his shop (Marshall Motors), all wrapped into an oft-convoluted plot that shifts from personal struggle to revenge, while leaving questions of logic and morality mostly unanswered. At the same time, it’s also fun, and that’s genuinely the point when going into a movie called NEED FOR SPEED.
Framed and prosecuted in connection with the illegal racing death of his friend (in a scene that was impossible to watch without thinking of the recent, real-life passing of actor Paul Walker), Marshall is released from prison and plots to settle the score with his longtime rival, Dino Brewster (CAPTAIN AMERICA‘s Howard Stark, Dominic Cooper). How to settle it? Pay attention: Borrow a souped-up concept Ford Mustang Cobra that was being developed by the late Carroll Shelby, and eventually finished by Marshall Motors as part of a multi-million dollar deal brokered by Brewster between a wealthy collector and his car-savvy assistant (Julia, played by Imogen Poots) to use to enter an illegal street race called the DeLeon, with the promise of returning the $3 Million car to it’s owner, along with a spilt of the prize money. And it happens… an extraordinarily rich man loans his one-of-a-kind vehicle to a convicted felon, for an illegal race, and he sends a nice young lady along for the ride in it.
But the DeLeon is actually where a great deal of NEED FOR SPEED‘s charm comes into play. With Michael Keaton as the enigmatic Monarch (a retired racer himself), we’re introduced to the invite-only, high-stakes race down the California coast, with the Monarch narrating the action via computer from an undisclosed location. Keaton is impressive, acting alone in a room for the entire film, turning on a little of that 1989 BATMAN “crazy” Bruce Wayne-vibe (“You wanna get nuts? C’mon! Let’s get nuts!”), and on a weird note – sorta reminding me of myself: a guy sitting in an office full of computers and screens, existing as an entity solely coming at you through the internet.
What the filmmakers took from the NFS games was mostly visual cues that will be recognizable to those who’ve played them (certain camera moves and overlays, some chase elements), but when married to real life in live-action, the collateral damage to innocent bystanders makes for an uneasy feeling (this coming from a guy that used to LOVE those CARMAGEDDON games), especially when it feels like you’re riding shotgun, and the possibility of danger and tragedy are milliseconds away.
For automotive enthusiasts, the cars are the stars of this show, and the aforementioned chases are impressive, with most work pulled off practically by director Scott Waugh and crew. Those scenes alone are worth the price of admission to see on the big screen.
The Rock Father Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Reviewed from an Advance Screening held in Burbank, California during my February 2014 trip to Los Angeles.