Need for Speed

Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) lives in a small town in New York State.  He and his father ran the local garage and participated in dirt track racing.  Tobey was pretty good as was Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) who lived in the same town.  Dino went on to drive professionally on the Indy Car circuit, becoming very successful.  Tobey stayed in his small town and worked at his dad’s garage.  Tobey’s father has recently passed away and money is very tight.  The bank is about to call in the loan on the garage.  To make extra cash, Tobey drives in illegal street races where the winner can take home as much as $5000.  Working with Tobey and also driving in the street races is Pete Coleman (Harrison Gilbertson), the little brother of Tobey’s former girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson) and Dino’s current girlfriend.  Dino has a business deal for Tobey:  Work on a very rare Shelby Mustang Dino owns that Carroll Shelby himself was working on when he died.  He plans on selling it for $2-million and he’ll give Tobey 25 percent of the sale price.  Tobey reluctantly agrees.  He and his crew of Pete, Benny (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi), Joe (Ramon Rodriguez) and Finn (Rami Malek) get the car in top running shape with a claim it will do a top speed of 230 miles per hour.  At a party to introduce the car, Tobey and Pete meet Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots), the representative of a rare car collector who is looking to purchase the Shelby.  Dino tells Tobey not to drive the car, but the next day at the track, Tobey is driving the car and getting to that 230 M.P.H. goal.  Julia’s boss buys the car for $2.7-million.  After they leave, Dino blows up at Tobey for driving the car and challenges him to a race.  If Tobey wins, he gets the 75 percent portion of the sale price.  If he loses, he forfeits his 25 percent share.  Tobey agrees and Pete wants in the race as well.  Dino’s uncle, who is out of town, has three equally matched Koenigsegg Ageras that were illegally imported.  The trio will take these cars on the streets to see who is best.  During the race, Tobey takes the lead and Pete is blocking Dino.  Dion taps Pete’s car, causing it to turn sideways and flip over.  It bursts into flames and goes over the side of a bridge, killing Pete.  Dino is able to get his friends to give him an alibi and frames Tobey for Pete’s death.  Tobey does two years in prison and is released on parole.  He contacts Julia’s boss to use the Mustang to get into an illegal street race with a huge prize for the winner called the De Leon, which is put on by a reclusive billionaire known only as Monarch (Michael Keaton).  Leaving New York State will violate Tobey’s parole so he needs Benny, Joe and Finn to help out in avoiding the police and the bounty hunters sent out by Dino to stop him from getting to the race.  Julia joins Tobey on a cross-country trip that will leave a great number of very expensive cars damaged and destroyed.  Tobey hopes to somehow take revenge on Dino for Pete’s death.
 
“Need for Speed” is based on the EA Sports video game of the same name.  As with most video game adaptions, this one is simplistic and just aims to be as visually stimulating as the source material.  There it succeeds.  It also is a terribly flawed film that makes some very basic mistakes of story, character, logic and pacing.  It’s not very good which is why I’ll feel so dirty by the end of this review.
 
The characters in “Need for Speed” have all the depth of a puddle after a brief rain shower.  No one is more complicated than say your average video game character.  The villain is clearly nothing more than evil and self-centered.  The hero is good and pure, breaking the law with the best of intensions.  The supporting characters are equal parts brilliance and comic stupidity.  The female characters are largely eye candy and passive, save for Imogen Poots Julia, who, while showing she’s as tough as any of the guys, still manages to be the only person hurt enough to be hospitalized in a car crash while the hero walks away with just some minor cuts.  All the characters are two-dimensional and simplistic, only doing what is needed to propel the plot forward.  And most of that story momentum is provided by some amazing stunt drivers who create some very harrowing chase and racing scenes; but more on that in a bit.
 
The story is painfully predictable.  As each plot point ticked by, the next element became clear.  The way some scenes are shot actually provides the clues to what will happen next.  There’s one camera shot about two-thirds of the way through that is such a huge hint that something is about to happen it may as well have had a graphic that says “Wait Till You See This!” flashing on the screen.  Of course, this film isn’t watched for the emotional journey of the characters.  It’s watched for fast cars that get smashed up at fairly regular intervals.
 
In that aspect, “Need for Speed” is a perfect film.  From the Shelby Mustang to Lamborghinis to average sedans, no vehicle is safe from the destructive power of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion, gravity and basic physics.  There are some spectacular crashes and near misses with all the action in the film done by stunt drivers, not computer generated images.  The planning and thought that must have gone into some of these stunts must have been mind-boggling.  One particular jump, which no car or passenger could have survived in real life, looked amazing in the 3D version of the movie I saw.  All the stunt drivers on the production earned their pay and deserve most of the credit for the film being as enjoyable as it is.
 
The rest of the kudos should go to a cast that, while given underwritten characters and playing second fiddle to a bunch of sports cars, manage to wring an enormous amount of charm and a decent bit of fun out of the film.  Aaron Paul manages to be both tough and sympathetic, eventually warming to the interloper who forces her way along for the ride.  Imogen Poots (her manager really should have talked her into changing that last name) is a winning presence as Julia, managing to be both a smart and strong character while also providing some lighthearted moments.  Dominic Cooper is given the thankless job of being about the only unlikeable character in the whole film.  Dino is egotistical and arrogant while also being a coward.  Cooper isn’t given an opportunity to show us if Dino has anything redeeming about him, making him an easily hated villain.  Mescudi, Rodriguez and Malek are almost completely on hand for comic relief.  They all manage to give the film some much needed humor, even when they are driving recklessly in support of their boss and friend Tobey.  It’s the combination of a winning cast and spectacular stunts that makes “Need for Speed” far more likable than it deserves.
 
“Need for Speed” is rated PG-13 for nudity, disturbing crash scenes, sequences of reckless street racing and crude language.  The nudity is not the least bit sexual and involves a male character stripping naked as he quits a job.  There are numerous violent crashes.  The most disturbing is the one that kills Pete.  Every moving violation is violated numerous times in the film.  Perhaps a young driver or one about to get a license should be reminded that it’s just a movie.  Foul language is mild and widely scattered.
 
Back in the day, films with second tier actors, unproven writers and new directors and that could be made fairly cheaply were the majority of what was released.  They often had lower production values but some are considered classics and, if nothing else, were often entertaining.  “Need for Speed” is the modern version of the “B” movie.  While it lacks much in the way of sophistication or meaningful story, it more than makes up in remarkable action and being a fun way to spend a couple of hours.  I wish more bad movies could fail so entertainingly.
 
“Need for Speed” gets five mildly embarrassed guitars out of five.
 
This week, another version of the bleak dystopian future and felt and foam brought to life vie for your hard-earned entertainment dollar.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
 
Divergent—In a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late.
 
Muppets Most Wanted—The entire Muppets gang goes on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid and London. But mayhem follows the Muppets overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine—the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently playing in theatres.
 
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