Need for Speed (Scott Waugh, 2014) – There are few things more thrillingly cinematic than a car chase, which is why it’s odd that so many movies based around that twisted metal movie thrill tend to be so dull. Need for Speed is a perfect example. Here’s a movie directed by a former stunt man (Scott Waugh) who is hell bent on reviving physical action in a CGI era. He fills this screen with some absolutely spectacular (and spectacularly ridiculous) car chases, crashes, and daring-dos, but unfortunately that’s pretty well all his movie offers to viewers. When a film makes you thinks about how good the Fast & Furious franchise is something has gone horribly wrong. Though not without its pleasures, Need for Speed is a flick that will make you crave an appearance from Vin Diesel and no movie should ever draw that out of a viewer.
Aaron Paul stars as a kick ass street racer and mechanic who is asked to build a super-sweet race car by the super evil Dominic Cooper (his name is Dino Brewster, just to clear up any confusion about whether or not he’s evil). He does it, the car is amazing, sells for a ton of money, and wins a street race. Then the evil Dino demands that Aaron and his best buddy take him on in a race with the winner taking home three super expensive cars and a bucket load of pride. It looks like Aaron will win, so that jerk Dino kills his friend and takes home the win instead. To make matters worse, Aaron gets arrested for street racing and Dino gets off Scott free. That all takes about 40 minutes and when Paul walks out of prison with a look on his face suggesting he needs revenge, it suddenly hit me that what I’d just seen was plot set up. The movie hadn’t even really started yet.
That’s right. Need for Speed, the Fast & Furious rip off based on a video game franchise is over 2 hours long which is way, way too damn long for this type of movie. The plot in that opening sequence was a collection of clichés, and despite the acting talent on display, everything is completely sterile and static when cars aren’t bouncing off of each other. Thankfully from that point on director Scott Waugh tells the story entirely through car chases. Paul calls up a British billionaire to get that fancy-pants racecar he built to join in an illegal street race run by another billionaire (Michael Keaton, whose character apparently broadcasts online about his illegal street race 24 hours a day without any police interference). The car is dropped off by the beautiful Imogen Poots who insists on riding across the country with Paul. So he’s got a love interest while racing to the climatic race. To complicate things, Dino puts a bounty on Paul’s head to prompt a series of mini-races within the race to the big race.
So yeah, that’s a lot of racing and thankfully the pile-ups and spinouts are expertly staged by Waugh and his stunt team. There are some pretty mind-boggling automotive feats pulled off here, with Waugh mounting cameras from every possible angle to capture the action (including several jammed onto cars while they’re crashing, which it a pretty stunning effect).
The problem with this movie is the same problem with Waugh’s debut: Act of Valor. It’s as action focused as it should be, but that also means that the plot and characterization is virtually ignored. Every character is stock, every plot twist predictable, and worst of all it’s played painfully sincere without any camp comedy or irony. It all gets very tiring, very quickly.
Paul is a talented actor who rants, raves, and screams his way to something approximating characterization. Poots’ natural charm adds a little something. Keaton’s Beetlejuice voice tosses in a few chuckles even if all of his performance was clearly shot in a single day sitting in the same chair. But none of their work is enough to breathe life to this tiresome material. Waugh treats his actors like props in his car show and without anyone to care about, a story to follow, or winking humor to make the cheese go down smoothly, the movie is little more than a stunt demo reel. Those stunts might be spectacular, but over two hours is too long to sit through a demo reel. A 30-minute to an hour version of this movie would be fun, and a version with an actual screenplay would be even better. Sadly we get neither and that ultimately makes the movie a dull exercise in automotive mayhem. Fast 7 this ain’t.
The Blu-Ray for Need for Speed is as strong as one would expect. The colors are bold and even the most minute details are crystal clear. The sound mix feels like shoving your head in the middle of a revving engine in the best possible sense. The special features section piles on an audio commentary from Waugh and Paul, four making-of featurettes, and the usual deleted scenes and outtakes. As you’d expect, most of the time is spent discussing how all of the crashes and chases were pulled off and all of that material is fun to watch (especially Waugh’s supercut of all the crashes and pile ups in the movie). Plot, character, and casting are discussed briefly, and it feels little laughable for everyone to pretend that they took it seriously.
Need for Speed is a car porn movie made for car porn lovers. If you spin the disc looking for anything other than automotive mayhem, you’ll be disappointed. If all you want are pretty cars and prettier explosions, then you have found what you seek. (Phil Brown)